American consumers are now struggling to find many products, but the biggest shortage is infant formula. A situation that affects the most vulnerable and is driven by multiple factors related to both the pandemic and inflation and the health scandal.
“Miami families are in despair,” writes the website of WRGT, a local television station in Florida, and Salt Lake City TV talks about “great stress for parents in Utah.” Headlines of this type have been multiplying and becoming more disturbing in the American media in recent days.
The shortage of powdered milk throughout the country is questionable. More than 40% of stock sold out in 11,000 stores, according to USA Today on Monday, May 9. In six states – Iowa, Missouri, Texas, South and North Dakota and Tennessee – more than half of the products are no longer available, according to CNN, which relies on data from Datasembly, a site that tracks price trends for local products in the United States. States, released in early May. “Baby milk is now the most severely deficient product in the United States,” said Ben Reich, CEO of Datasembly.
“Ready to pay cash”
Photos of empty supermarket shelves have flooded social media as young parents recount their endless journeys from Target to CVS in search of the Holy Grail.
“I have two children. I can’t find their milk powder anywhere and I’m willing to pay cash for anything you can get,” Texas resident Ashley Hernandez wrote on eBay, whose children need it more for health reasons, a very specific milk .
“Every day we get feedback from parents who are alarmed, angry and especially very scared because their children’s health is at stake,” said Brian Dittmeier, one of the leaders of the National Association of WIC (Women-Infants-Children), a supporting organization for the poorest families.
In the US, 75% of babies over six months old receive at least some of their nutrition in the form of powdered milk, the Axios website emphasizes. Therefore, this shortage is likely to leave marks if it continues, which can affect the development of children, reminds CNN.
From pandemic to inflation…
A situation that did not escape the politicians, especially in the Republican camp. Some of them called on the Biden administration to treat this deficit as “national crisis”while urging the president, in a clever mix of genres, to cut financial support for Ukraine in order to free up funds for American “mothers”…
The infant formula shortage is a national crisis that has hit poor mothers and children the hardest.
The FDA needs to step up immediately, be transparent, explain how it will reopen production, and tell parents the timeline.
And the Biden administration needs to take this seriously.
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) May 9, 2022
Even some Democrats, such as Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer, have urged the government to do more. In particular, they asked him use the Defense Production Act – a law that allows the state to force companies in the country to produce certain products as a priority – to overcome this shortage.
The situation has only worsened over the past year. In the spring of 2021, milk powder still seemed to be just one of a long list of products affected by supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic. While most of the big brands of milk powder — Nestlé, Reckitt, Abott — produce their products locally for the US market, they still depend on certain ingredients or packaging boxes imported from China or other countries, the Wall Street Journal emphasizes.
At that time, only 10% of the powdered milk stocks were sold. But if the shortage of other goods in the United States – computer chips, textiles – has not worsened, then this does not apply to infant formula. By January 2022, 20% of products became unavailable.
Not only supply chain tensions have been at work, but also the threat of inflation caused by rising energy prices, partly because of what happened then, but also because of the crisis in Ukraine.
Why has inflation particularly affected the availability of powdered milk? It’s often less replaceable than other products, so families may tend to stock up when they expect prices to spike, explains The Guardian. Manufacturers seem to have been caught off guard by the milk powder hype.
… Survives a health scandal
Moreover, this shortage has particularly affected the poorest segments of the population, because the laboratory, the exclusive supplier of pharmacies that distribute free doses of powdered milk, has become the center of a health scandal.
Abbott Nutrition has indeed been forced to organize a mass recall of several product lines since mid-February. The US lab, which, in addition to partnering with pharmacies, sells some of the most popular baby dairy products in the United States, has come under the scrutiny of health authorities after discovering a possible link between their products and four infant hospitalizations. , two of whom died.
These children were infected with a very specific bacterium called cronobacteria, which in some rare cases can cause very dangerous infections for the little ones, such as meningitis or severe inflammation, according to the FDA, American Drugs Gendarmerie.
Traces of this bacterium were found by the FDA at one of Abbott Nutrition’s plants in Sturgis, Michigan. In a report published in March, the agency concluded that the laboratory did not implement the necessary hygiene measures at its baby milk production facility.
The scandal only escalated when several media outlets reported in mid-April that the whistleblower had already informed the FDA of a hygiene breach at the Sturgis plant six months before the discovery of the Cronobacteria.
Abbott Nutrition disputed the FDA’s findings and accused the whistleblowers of viciousness against a fired former employee. However, the lab followed the FDA’s advice and issued an additional recall from mid-March.
In the meantime, to deal with this shortage, most major malls have limited the number of boxes of baby milk sold per customer. Hoping to retain at least some control over their shares.
Thus, milk powder has become the latest and perhaps one of the most striking illustrations of the fact that no one escapes the consequences of the current crises. Even a baby, far from realizing that his bottle is partly affected by restrictions in China, their impact on the supply chain, and tensions in the heart of Europe that are driving prices soaring.