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Manufacturers and distributors warn US baby milk shortage could worsen over summer

Latest NewsManufacturers and distributors warn US baby milk shortage could worsen over summer

Rebecca Heinrich, director of a milk bank, pours donated frozen breast milk into plastic bottles this Friday in Arvada, Colorado.David Zalubowski (AP)

The breast milk crisis in the US is getting thicker every day, fueling at the same time the controversy about how such a situation could have arisen and the anxiety of hundreds of thousands of fathers and mothers across the country forced to make pilgrimages. from store to store or through the network to get a basic livelihood for their children. While the FDA (abbreviation in English for the federal food and drug agency) assured this Friday that the shortage will be resolved within a few weeks, one of the most important manufacturers of milk formula claims that the shortage will last for several months. . Laboratories and factories note that stockouts – the percentage of out-of-stock items hit 43% this week – could worsen over the summer. The crisis has hit hard the under-resourced population dependent on aid that limits access to the product.

While the Joe Biden administration has taken action on the matter, at a meeting between the president and executives of manufacturers and distributors this Thursday, the executive branch has made delivering baby milk to families with fewer resources its top priority, making it easier to purchase any milk available on the market. Many low-income families depend on public assistance coupons (the mother and child program, known as WIC) to buy food, so they have more limited access to the product because these assistance programs are contracted between states and specific manufacturers.

The administration simplifies bureaucratic procedures for this, since access to the free market, including offers on the Internet, the cost of which has increased many times in recent weeks, is closed to coupon recipients. The White House also instructed the Federal Trade Commission, an agency that monitors free competition, and the attorneys general of various states in the country to investigate information related to exorbitant price increases, taking advantage of the situation.

Abbott Laboratories, the immediate source of the crisis after it was forced to halt baby milk production in February over suspected contamination, indicated this Friday that a closed Michigan plant could start pumping containers to drugstore and supermarket shelves in two years. months, but for this it must first obtain FDA approval. The shutdown follows four cases of poisoning of infants who consumed this brand of milk, two of which resulted in death, between the end of last year and the beginning of this year.

But other producers aren’t as optimistic about a resolution to the crisis that has dominated US headlines in recent days, said the CEO of Perrigo, one of the four companies that make 90% of US baby milk. this Friday that the deficit crisis could last until the end of the year.

Next week, the agency will announce specific plans to speed up imports of the product, such as a temporary reduction in existing tariffs, as well as new packaging alternatives for US manufacturers, such as reducing supply sizes of existing ones to a single, more functional one, according to FDA Director Robert Kaliff. The FDA’s actions are aimed at filling empty shelves while keeping safety, quality and labeling standards in mind, Califf said.

The US infant formula market, valued at $4 billion, is dominated by local manufacturers, with barely 10% of the rest imports and subject to high tariffs.

American families with breastfed babies are almost entirely reliant on infant formula (partly because mothers return to work early after giving birth in a country where maternity leave does not exist). According to a 2020 report on breastfeeding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, abbreviation in English, federal health agency), less than half of the children in the country were exclusively breastfed in the first three months of life. .


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