No end in sight in the US to formula shortage for babies, a crisis that has put on the table the lack of competition that has spread throughout the US economy, even in essential goods such as baby food.
The problem “is not going to solve itself in a day or a week,” Brian Deese, senior White House economic adviser, told CNN on Friday.
He did not clarify how long this critical situation would last.
Initially caused by blockages in the supply chain and a lack of workers in production due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the shortage worsened in February when, after the death of two children, the manufacturer Abbott announced the closure of its plant. of the state of Michigan and the “voluntary recall” of its milk powders.
The shortage has left many parents desperate and fearful that their children could starve. Powdered milk is necessary for many families, particularly low-income families where mothers must return to work almost immediately after giving birth and are unable to breastfeed their babies.
Another problem is that the prices of powdered milk that are still in stores have skyrocketed.
An evaluation by the supervisory Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States authorized Abbott’s formula, but made 483 “observations” on the manufacturing plant, Abbott said in a statement Friday.
“We immediately began implementing corrective actions and submitting them for FDA approval, we can reactivate our Sturgis, Michigan plant within two weeks,” according to the company.
The FDA has promised to announce plans next week that will allow, among other things, the importation of foreign milk powder.
matter of weeks
Currently, the FDA bans most foreign-made infant formulas, including products made in Europe, not because of sanitary concerns but because of labeling and packaging standards.
“We believe these and other efforts will help dramatically improve supply in the United States in a matter of weeks,” FDA chief Robert Califf wrote on his Twitter account.
US President Joe Biden also said that “it will be a matter of weeks or less” when the shelves are filled again. Deposit levels have started to stabilize this week, he added.
According to data provider Datasembly, as of Tuesday, 43% of the usual supply of powdered milk was out of stock, up 10% from the April average.
Brian Deese stressed that security was key to solving the shortage of powdered milk, adding that the Biden administration has been working flat out to try to ensure a sufficient supply.
Accused of a wait-and-see attitude or even indifference, the White House announced some measures on Thursday, but the scope appeared to be limited.
Biden said Friday that his administration stepped in as soon as it became aware of the matter, but that they should “move cautiously and quickly at the same time.”
Only three manufacturers
“The White House … is looking at all kinds of options to help parents, which is good,” Amanda Starbuck, director of research at the group Food & Water Watch, a food safety NGO, told AFP. .
He noted that the crisis was indicative of a problem with extreme concentration along the food production chain.
Three US companies control 95% of sales of powdered milk, according to Starbuck.
“It matters a little less if … if we’re talking about soda or chips. But it matters too much when we’re talking about essentials like milk,” he said.
The current situation is the result of a decades-long movement. The concentration has benefited US companies that, in the absence of competitors, managed to agree on prices among themselves, Starbuck explained.
“But the fault is not entirely with these companies … Why did our government allow … just three companies to control so much?” he asked.
In addition, the giant size of the companies does not make them more efficient either.
“It is not efficient when there is a single recall (of the product) that affects all the parents in the entire country who need to feed their children,” he said.
Starbuck felt it’s time to back down, even if it means dismantling these big corporations.
“What we need to do now is pass comprehensive antitrust legislation to better control companies, to dismantle companies that have gotten so big that they are abusing their power in the market,” he said.
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