Beshear signs executive order to activate price-gouging laws for baby formula

Beshear encouraged any families who have experienced price gouging to contact Attorney General Daniel Cameron's office.

Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order Thursday declaring a state of emergency in order to apply state price-gouging laws for baby formula. 

“By implementing our price-gouging laws, we can make sure that families are not being charged more than they should to obtain a critical supply of formula to feed their baby,” Beshear said at his weekly news conference.

Beshear said Attorney General Daniel Cameron has not reported any claims of price gouging, or requested that the price gouging laws be activated, but other states have reported such claims and have taken steps to address them. 

Beshear encouraged any families who have experienced price gouging to contact Cameron’s office. That can be done by calling 502-695-5485 or by filling out a price-gouging complaint form. 

Cameron encouraged those who use the form to report as many details as possible about the suspected gouging, including the name and address of the seller or retailer, the item purchased, the price of the item after the emergency declaration and the price of the item before the emergency declaration, if known. And if consumers are seeking a refund, he said they should keep receipts to show proof of purchase. 

“As parents, Makenze and I recognize the incredible stress and fear that the shortage is causing Kentucky families, and our office will use the full force of the law to ensure that the price charged for essential products like baby formula is no more than the law allows,” Cameron said in a news release

Beshear acted a week after Kentucky lawmakers met to discuss the baby formula shortage, and Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, called in an opinion article for him to address price-gouging issues. 

State Health Commissioner Steven Stack encouraged families who are struggling to find baby formula to seek support from a number of agencies.  

“The infant formula shortage has caused worry and frustration for Kentucky’s families as they have sought to provide nutrition to our most precious citizens,” Stack said in a news release

“We encourage families to reach out to all available resources in their community, including local health departments, pediatricians, food pantries, community action councils and other supporting agencies to meet the nutritional needs of their infants and to ensure they thrive. We also encourage all eligible families to enroll in WIC or SNAP to help during this shortage.”

Women, Infants and Children nutrition benefits are available to Kentucky residents who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have a child 5 or younger and have household income of no more than 185% of the federal poverty level, with rules governing what counts as income. Anyone who receives Medicaid or is part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) automatically meets income requirements for WIC. Click here for a WIC pre-screening Tool to see if you are eligible.

Cameron warned families to guard against baby formula scams and encouraged Kentuckians to only purchase baby formula from known, reputable sources; to use a credit card to make the purchase if possible; to avoid paying for formula up front if purchasing from an unknown source; and to be suspicious of sources advertising formula at prices that are too good to be true. Any suspected scams can be reported to ag.ky.gov/scams.

The shortage is largely the result of of violations at Abbott Nutrition’s Michigan factory that caused the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to shut it down in February. The investigation was prompted by four bacterial infections in infants who had consumed formula from the plant. Abbot has up to 40% of the formula market in the U.S.

Abbott announced June 4 that it had resumed production at the factory after meeting initial requirements agreed to with the FDA in a consent decree May 16. 

But that doesn’t mean an immediate end to the shortage. Abbott says its priority is production of EleCare, a special formula for children with multiple allergies, before it ramps up production of its other products. The initial EleCare product is expected to be released “on or about June 20,” Abbott’s release said.

Some relief is also expected from oversea shipments of non-specialty baby formula. On June 6, President Biden announced that his administration had sourced a flight through the Operation Fly Formula initiative. His administration says the delivery will include Nestlé NAN SupremePro Stage 1 infant formula and that additional deliveries will be announced soon.

FDA Administrator Robert Califf told lawmakers on May 26 that the baby formula shortage in the U.S. will likely not be resolved until late July. 

The latest dataset from Datasembly, a retail data firm, for the week ending May 29th shows a 73% out-of-stock rate for baby formula nationally and a 76% out-of-stock rate for Kentucky. 

Beshear signs executive order to activate price-gouging laws for baby formula

Kentucky Health News

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.