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The Berkshires is feeling the national shortage of baby formula as seen by mostly empty shelves in local supermarkets.

Baby Formula Shortage Reaches Berkshire County

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Has the national baby formula shortage reached Berkshire County?  By looking at the shelves of three major grocery stores, signs lead to "yes."

The city's Stop & Shop, Big Y, and Market 32 were all significantly understocked this week.

Mona Golub, Price Chopper's vice president of public relations, consumer and marketing service, said that the chain has been having difficulty obtaining baby formula as all retailers are.

"We are at the mercy of suppliers, receiving only a fraction of the product that we are ordering," she wrote in an email.

"And unfortunately, there are no substitutes or home remedies for this specialized nutritional product which is created specifically for the digestive system of infants."

One of the main national suppliers of baby formula, Abbott Nutrition, issued a voluntary recall on powder formulas  manufactured in its Sturgis, Mich., facility after contamination of the bacteria Cronobacter sakazakii was found. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigated bacterial infections in four infants who consumed the product, two of whom died.

The facility was shut down and the FDA find safety protocols were not being followed.

Combined with supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, this has led to a shortage across the nation. Datasembly reported that in the first week of May, 43 percent of baby formula was out of stock.

This week, House Democrats pushed through a $28 million emergency spending bill to aid the FDA in addressing the shortage, particularly in getting the Abbott facility up and running. Congress also passed a bill to ensure recipients of the Women, Infants, and Children can continue to get formula.

The FDA is advising against homemade formula because it may lack nutrients vital to an infant's growth.

One other option for new mothers is breast feeding. Berkshire Nursing Families has seen some pregnant women expressing concern on how to maintain milk production once their baby is born.

The organization recognizes the dilemma that women who cannot breastfeed are facing.

"We feel that during this time it is really important that women who are breastfeeding get the services that they need so that they can continue to have success feeding their baby. This means referrals during pregnancy so that they have accurate evidence-based information going into it and then referrals as early as possible after birth when the feeding learning curve is the steepest,"  Executive Director Rosalie Girard wrote in an email.  

"This is a very difficult time. Many women have had difficulty providing enough breastmilk for their babies. It's such a fundamental drive to nourish our infants. But ultimately, there was always formula to fall back on if there was no other solution. Now these women and their formula-feeding counterparts are facing the same dilemma. Their strongest mothering instinct is to be able to be confident that they can feed their baby."

Melissa King, director of the Berkshire North WIC program, said WIC recipients in the Berkshires are encountering availability problems with infant formula but that there has been an improvement with some types of formula and she expect other types to improve in the next few months.

WIC is a federal supplemental nutrition program through Berkshire Health Systems that provides nutrition and health education, healthy food, and other services free of charge to Massachusetts families who qualify. 

"Here at Berkshire North WIC, we are experiencing a significant formula shortage. This is impacting all families, not just WIC families, both across the commonwealth and the U.S.," King wrote in an email. "WIC staff have been fielding several calls a day from participants having difficulties obtaining WIC formula. In some cases, participants have been in the store, unable to find the WIC formula. They are able to call the WIC office while at the store, and WIC staff can change the formula to a formula that is on the shelf. WIC staff have visited and called WIC stores to help the participant locate the formula."

The types of formula covered by WIC is restricted by procurement agreements that vary by state. The congressional bill would waive those limits.

"Families have been working hard to obtain the supplies they need for their babies," King wrote. "Participants have shared that they have traveled to and from all the stores in Berkshire County and beyond, even calling stores ahead of time to have them set cans aside for them.

"Other organizations in the county have purchased formula and have been able to donate cans to families in need. For participants with significant challenges finding specialized formula, WIC has been working closely with pharmacies and formula manufacturers to locate the needed product."

About 60 percent of WIC participants formula feed their babies but some parents have decided to breastfeed after hearing of the recall and shortage, King reported, and those people have received support through WIC's staff, breastfeeding counselor, and other breastfeeding helpers.

"The impact of the formula shortage has been dependent on each family's individual circumstances. In terms of the impact on infant nutrition, WIC has been able to expand WIC formula offerings to be able to meet infants' nutritional needs," she wrote.

King said the program has been able to act as a "safety net" for families, help find alternatives and provide education on preparation and storage. She said they have been reminding recipients that it is not safe to dilute their baby's formula in order to make it last longer.

Congress was told this week that the Abbott facility could be in operation as soon as next week.

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General Dynamics Seeks Small-Business Connections

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

Congressman Neal says there are more than 133,000 Massachusetts residents employed by small businesses in the state. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — General Dynamics Mission Systems gathered around 75 small businesses and professional organizations at the Berkshire Innovation Center on Monday for a day of making connections.

The event titled "Innovating for The Future" sought to expand the company's supply chain in the state and further GD's relationship with the community by strengthening the local industrial sector.  

"I think one of our main objectives today is to make connections. Make connections between General Dynamics and all of the folks we have here representing the various companies, we have several of the General Dynamics companies represented," Vice President of Supply Chain Management Ann Rusher said.

"So getting our message out as to what our needs are and what would be important for small businesses to be able to support us and making the connections than with the small business, what are their capabilities and where do they want to go, everyone's on their own respective growth journeys, and then how do we make the connection so that we can follow up and actually find ways to work together and to help each other and collaborate on the hard problems that we are facing right now."

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