Food-Insecure from the Start

Economic, Social, and Political Conflicts of the 2022 Infant Milk Crisis


  • Anna Jastrzębiec-Witowska Maria Kozaczkowa City Library of Dąbrowa Tarnowska



infant formula, supply shortage, supply chain, food security, food insecurity, market concentration, food system, post-pandemic market disruption, breastfeeding


The 2022 infant formula crisis has brought a new meaning to food insecurity, generally understood as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food” (USDA Economic Research Service, Definitions of Food Security). The problem has been affecting a specific social category: people caring for infants. As expected, it exacerbated food insecurity and food worries among low income and minority families, but also impacted families commonly perceived as the middle class. There are no easy solutions to the problem which combines post-pandemic supply disruptions with a decadeslong market concentration in the domestic formula sector, with four companies controlling around 90% of the market supply and virtually none coming from other countries due to steep import tariffs on the most formula (Horsley). Throughout the spring and summer of 2022, the formula crisis served as a proxy for the interplay of economic, political, and social conflicts extant in the United States. Besides direct conflicts, like those between formula manufacturers, families in need of formula, and breastfeeding advocates, there are also post-2020 presidential election conflicts between those who accepted the results and those who rejected them. These conflicts will be examined here, as well as the responsibilities of government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that important food staples such as baby formula meet stringent safety criteria, which — given the current shape of the U.S. food system — could lead to depletion of these very supplies when problems arise. While the blame game continues and becomes political, with fingers being pointed at manufacturers, government agencies, the Biden administration and even the babies of migrants detained at the U.S. borders, no longterm policies preventing such a crisis in the future have been established. The measures implemented by the Biden administration to alleviate the problem, including 26 events of Operation Fly Formula to transport infant milk to the U.S. from various parts of the world, reduced the crisis only to a certain extent. Much bolder steps against market concentration in the milk formula sector and towards a smarter imports policy and better hygiene standards in production facilities must be taken to increase the food security of infants and young children in the United States.

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Author Biography

Anna Jastrzębiec-Witowska, Maria Kozaczkowa City Library of Dąbrowa Tarnowska

Received her Ph.D. in Humanities/Sociology from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, in 2010. She also received an M.A. in European Studies in 1999 from the University of Exeter in England and an M.A. in Sociology in 1998, also from the Jagiellonian University. In her academic work, she has specialized in rural sociology and sustainable food systems, with an emphasis on the civic aspects of alternative agriculture and the building of sustainable communities and food economies. Her professional experience includes working with international NGOs and the local government in Dąbrowa Tarnowska in Małopolska Province, Poland. Having recently completed a cultural management certification course, she currently works as the director of the public library in Dąbrowa Tarnowska.


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How to Cite

Jastrzębiec-Witowska, A. “Food-Insecure from the Start: Economic, Social, and Political Conflicts of the 2022 Infant Milk Crisis”. Ad Americam, vol. 24, Nov. 2023, pp. 33-55, doi:10.12797/AdAmericam.24.2023.24.03.