Astronomical gas prices. Skyrocketing housing costs. A looming recession. Times are tough right now for everyone but the super-rich.

Especially women—who are dealing not only with attacks on reproductive rights, but also shortages of baby formula and tampons.

That’s why Robert Kuttner’s idea to create a public option for baby formula makes a crucial point: “The remedy is either to break the [formula] industry up into lots of smaller producers, or even better, to have a public option, where a public entity enters the market as a major producer … When private producers disgrace themselves, social ownership starts looking very good.”

The story of how the country’s largest formula corporation was forced to shut down one of its plants after four babies were hospitalized, two of which died, is full of disgrace.

Last fall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspected the plant and found water pooled on the floor, a breeding ground for bacteria. According to a whistleblower, the plant falsified documents and failed to destroy an entire batch of formula with problematic micro-organisms.

The really sad thing is, we shouldn’t be surprised. There are only four major formula suppliers, with two of them practically controlling the industry.

When the FDA first established formula testing requirements back in 2003, an industry group pushed back, arguing that healthy babies—like those who were just infected—were not at risk. In 2014, the industry successfully weakened bacteria testing safety standards.

As it stands now, the corporations are left to conduct tests themselves on a relatively small sample of their production.

Corporations simply have different motives than public institutions. They exist to make a profit for executives and shareholders, while the government exists to serve the common good.

We shouldn’t let corporations control the things we rely on, like water and baby food. And if we do, they should be heavily regulated.

Fortunately, the Biden administration has used the Defense Production Act to speed production and authorized flights to import supply from overseas. But that’s not enough. We need to improve safety, maintain supply, and keep workers safe.

What we need is more public intervention. The corporations aren’t going to clean up this mess.

If there were ever a time for the government to step in and make things right, during a pandemic with the threat of a recession is that time.

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Photo by Mike Mozart.

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