In question, the supply problems accentuated by the closure of a factory of the manufacturer Abbott. The case took a political turn.
“Creepy”, “frustrating”. It’s an unimaginable stressful situation for many American parents: The United States is experiencing a very rare shortage of baby milk. In question, the supply problems accentuated by the closure of a factory of the manufacturer Abbott.
It’s been going on for months, says Sara Khan, mother of three children aged 10, 7 and 6 months. “As soon as my baby was born I noticed there was a problem and he will be 7 months next week”, she told AFP. She then describes her obstacle course to find a few boxes of powdered milk, her distress in the face of the empty shelves of CVS and Walgreens pharmacies or Target supermarkets, whether in Washington or its surroundings. She held on thanks to her friends and family, who mailed her boxes of milk whenever they found one, from Boston, New York or Baltimore. “It’s absurd”she continues, thinking back to when she even imported milk from Germany.
The situation really got worse when, on February 17, after the death of two babies, the manufacturer Abbott announced the “voluntary recall” in its Michigan milk powder plant, including Similac, used by millions of American families. The investigation cleared the milk powder but production has still not resumed, worsening the shortage that was already caused by supply chain issues and lack of manpower. According to data provider Datasembly, the out-of-stock rate of infant milk formula reached 43% at the end of last week, up 10% from the April average.
“We had little choice but to switch to plant-based milk”
Steve Hohman, father of two in San Diego, California
“It’s very frustrating because it’s not like the problem happened overnight”, indignant Olivia Espinosa. In San Diego, Calif., Olivia Espinosa and Steve Hohman are parents to two children, including three-week-old Maya, who is lactose intolerant. “We had little choice but to switch to plant-based milk”, for lack of an alternative, he said. Usually, hospitals and pediatricians provide parents with many samples to find the best one for the baby. But few are those who still have them in stock. The dad stresses how frustrating it is that his daughter cannot try other milks that would probably be more nutritious. This shortage “is extremely frustrating, especially when you have an infant who has very specific needs”continues his wife, who says she has difficulty breastfeeding and producing enough milk.
Even for children who do not have a particular sensitivity, it is difficult, adds Sara Khan. “It is not so simple” to change milk, she said. The baby should like the taste of the new milk and it should not cause other problems such as constipation. And in addition to the supply problems, parents lament the costs while online sellers have doubled or even tripled their prices. “We know that many consumers have not been able to access the infant formula and essential medical foods they are used to using”said Robert Califf, of the American drug agency (FDA) in a statement on Tuesday evening. “We do everything in our power to ensure that there is a suitable product available where and when they need it”he said.
On Wednesday, Abbott said “deeply regret the situation”. “Since the recall, we have been working to increase supply to our other FDA-registered facilities, including flying Similac from our site in Cootehill, Ireland, and producing more Similac liquid and ‘Alimentum’, assured the group. The case is now taking a political turn. “I demand action from the FDA (directed by the administration) Biden to deal with this crisis”, launched Republican Elise Stefanik on Twitter. Further to the right still, Marjorie Taylor Green took offense on Twitter that “Congress wants to send almost $40 billion to Ukraine while American moms can’t find baby milk”. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has judged these shortages “scandalous and unacceptable”. On Twitter, he urged Joe Biden to “seize the situation quickly”. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki assured CNN on Monday that the Biden administration was working “day and night” to find solutions.
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