There are other dangers in formula theft besides the economic loss to stores. Baby formula, which has a shelf life, can end up in rodent infested, hot warehouses. Thieves might even fudge expiration dates to resell the formula.
"Improper storage conditions can potentially affect the nutrient content or physical appearance of infant formula, which could impact the product's nutritional value and safety as well as potentially threaten an infant's health," said Robert Rankin of the International Formula Council.
Rankin and others are calling for national legislation that targets organized retail theft and in particular the theft of infant formula. In March, a group of Senate Democrats introduced legislation to crack down on the the theft of infant formula, prescription drugs and medical devices. Legislation would make the theft of formula a violation of federal racketeering laws.
Several federal agencies are already targeting the theft of formula through their own task forces. ICE's Homeland Security Investigations unit launched a pilot program targeting organized retail theft rings in 2009.
"Operation Milk Money" has been one of their most successful busts to date. In January of this year, the unit arrested nine people in conjunction with a baby formula theft ring involving a Union City, N.J., grocery store called Los Hermanos run by three brothers.
From September 2010 to December 2010, the Siyam brothers allegedly arranged for the delivery of stolen baby formula to their store. People living in North Carolina and Pennsylvania stole formula throughout the South and then it was bought and resold by the Siyam brothers, U.S. attorneys allege.
Prosecutors allege that the Siyams earned at least $135,000 in profits from the formula.