Four questions about the lack of formula that drove Joe Biden to create an airlift

has become ‘One of the priorities’ US President Joe Biden. The United States has a huge shortage of baby formula: shelves are emptying one after another across the country, forcing stores to ration purchases and parents to put their children’s health at risk. Where does this deficiency come from and how does the state respond to it? Franceinfo returns to the topic in four questions.

What is the magnitude of the deficiency?

Baby formula is one of the hardest products to find on American store shelves right now. Inventory available for purchase in the country was 43% below its usual level between May 1 and May 8, according to data provider Datasembly*. That rate has risen almost continuously since November 2021, when it was just 11%, according to the company.

Some states are hardest hit than others: Stocks drop as much as 54% in Delaware or Tennessee, according to the Bloomberg*. Therefore, many US supermarket or drugstore chains, such as Target and CVS, have limited the amount of milk that can be purchased at one time.

What explains this deficiency?

Many factors are at play, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted US infant formula production, slowing the transportation of raw materials and polluting factory workers. But it was the closure of the largest US production site in February that precipitated the shortage.

Giant Abbott has closed its Sturgis, Michigan plant and recalled products suspected of causing four bacterial infections in infants, including two deaths. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Food Safety Agency, eventually cleared Abbott, but found other health loopholes, so production did not resume.

At the same time, the country does not have the opportunity to import similar products. Most foreign brands do not have FDA authorization to market their products in the US, due to labeling and packaging standards, France 24 explains. The US infant formula market is therefore concentrated in the hands of a few large national companies.

As the sector is unprofitable, manufacturers may be tempted to increase their margins by cutting costs, according to an expert who interviewed luck*. Except that by operating in tight flows, they no longer have the means to deal with a disruption in supply or a sharp increase in demand. However, the specter of a shortage is causing parents to buy more.

What are the risks of this deficiency?

For many American families, infant formula is a must. In the only wealthy country that doesn’t guarantee parents paid maternity leave, according to the Center for Global Policy*, mothers often have to return to work soon after giving birth, which prevents them from breastfeeding.

Low-income families are also affected by higher prices, and getting infant formula from another US country can be expensive. General food aid does exist, but it can only be used for specific ranges of milk, which limits the choice.

Moreover, it is not always easy to change brands if one of them is missing. According to the White House*, pAbout 5,000 American children depend on certain ranges of infant formula. “Some babies may have gas, discomfort or spit up if parents use a different brand.”describes Mona Amin, a Florida pediatrician she met Bloomberg*.

It is necessary to feed children with milk that is suitable for their nutritional needs, so as not to expose them to serious health problems. This is why pediatricians are urging parents not to do this “to make” The milk themselves, unlike many viral social media posts.

What measures have been taken to correct this?

For great diseases, great cures. While the Republican opposition criticized Joe Biden for inaction, the US president decided to create an air bridge on Wednesday, May 18: Operation Fly Formula aims to import infant formula that meets US standards.

Ministry of Defense “It will use its contracts with commercial airlines, as it did during the early months of the Covid pandemic, to transport products from factories overseas” and meet US safety standards, the White House said. Joe Biden also asked the Ministers of Health and Agriculture “Take all possible and appropriate measures to import more infant formula”.

At the behest of elected Republicans and Democrats, the president also appealed a law dating back to the Cold War, the Defense Production Act. Thanks to this provision, infant formula powder ingredients should be sold as a priority to milk manufacturers, even if they can be used for other products in normal times.

Finally, the Food and Drug Administration relaxed its standards to speed up the import authorization process and authorized the restart of the Abbott plant in Sturgis. But the manufacturer has made it clear that it will take eight to 10 weeks for new production to reach stores.

* The links followed by an asterisk are written in English.

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