State Attorney General Letitia James said Thursday she has sent cease-and-desist letters to 30 retailers that her office claimed were gouging consumers on the price of baby formula. The sellers consisted of both online and brick-and-mortar stores, mostly based in New York City, she said in the announcement. Her office didn’t identify the retailers by name.
One Bronx retailer was charging $17.99 for a 32-ounce ready-to-feed bottle of Enfamil NeuroPro that previously sold for $11.99, James said. A retailer in Erie County was charging $59.99 for a 19.8-ounce can of Enfamil Nutramigen formula, which typically sells for $44.99.
“Amid this crisis, families already have enough to worry about and should not have to worry about being price-gouged. We are warning all retailers that New York will not tolerate price gouging of baby formula,” she said in a statement.
New York’s price-gouging statute bans anyone within the chain of distribution for a product, including wholesalers and retailers, from charging an “unconscionably excessive price” for the item when supplies are scarce or the market is otherwise disrupted. Anyone breaking the law can be fined $25,000 or more for each infraction.
New York City announced a state of emergency over the formula shortage earlier this week that allows the city’s consumer protection department to crack down on retailers for price-gouging. City and state officials are asking consumers to report suspected law-breakers as well as to provide photographs and receipts of prices charged.
The baby formula crisis is affecting the entire U.S., with more than 40% of formula currently out of stock nationwide, according to data company Datasembly. The shortage traces largely to the February closure of an Abbott Nutrition plant in Michigan after a bacterial outbreak at the facility was linked to two infant deaths and four illnesses.
Formula makers are airlifting extra supplies of formula from Europe, and President Joe Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to speed up production of formula.