In the United States, the agonizing shortage of baby milk turns into a political crisis

INTERNATIONAL – Empty shelves and anxious families. The White House assured, this Thursday, May 12, to take very seriously the shortage of baby milk that the United States is experiencing, and which is turning into a political crisis for President Joe Biden.

According to data provider Datasembly, the stock-out rate of infant milk formula reached 43% at the end of last week, a situation that has only worsened since the shutdown in February. from a factory of the manufacturer Abbott.

Accused at worst of indifference, at best of wait-and-see attitude, the White House on Thursday set out a few measures, of limited scope. “It’s work that has been going on for months,” said his spokeswoman Jen Psaki, when asked about the reaction time of the American executive.

“We want to do everything we can”

“Our message to parents is: we heard, we want to do everything we can,” she said, pressed with questions on the subject which dominated her daily briefing. The Biden administration plans, among other things, to increase imports, while the United States produces 98% of the formula milk it consumes.

She also says she is working with the States to ease the administrative burden on the poorest families who buy infant milk using food stamps. The White House has finally seized the competition authority on the abuses linked to this situation of shortage, in particular the resale of infant milk online at exorbitant prices.

Jen Psaki indicated that one of the options still under study was to invoke the “Defense Production Act”, a text inherited from the Cold War which allows the American president to take economic decisions by decree.

Separately, Joe Biden spoke with retail officials and baby milk producers on Thursday, conversations described as “productive and encouraging” by an administration official, who did not wish to be named. .

But the White House has not risked predicting a way out of the crisis, while the Republican opposition, campaigning before the legislative elections in November, has seized on the subject and is pounding the Biden administration.

Biden administration under opposition criticism

The elected to the House of Representatives Elise Stefanik thus affirmed during a press conference to have contacted the federal authorities as early as February: “Joe Biden has no plan. […] When we asked the White House about the shortage, they laughed.

Randy Feenstra, an elected official from Iowa, assured him that, in his area, families “are going 50, 75, up to 100 miles to try [de] find” powdered milk (i.e. 80 to 160 kilometres).

Down to Democratic House of Representatives boss Nancy Pelosi, who let her frustration show on Thursday: “Right now babies are hungry, babies are crying, we need to respond to this situation now.”

Sara Khan, mother of three children aged 10, 7 and 6 months, told AFP her distress at the empty shelves in and around Washington. “As soon as my baby was born, I noticed that there was a problem and he will be 7 months old next week”, confides the mother of the family, who held on thanks to the boxes of milk sent by post by her family. and his friends.

The situation is even more agonizing for parents of children whose health requires special milks, such as Maya, three weeks old, who is lactose intolerant. “We had little choice but to switch to plant-based milk,” for lack of an alternative, says her father Steve Hohman, who lives in San Diego, California.

On February 17, after the death of two babies, the manufacturer Abbott announced the “voluntary recall” in its Michigan factory of powdered milks, including Similac, used by millions of American families.

The investigation cleared the affected milk but production has still not resumed, compounding the shortage already caused by broader supply chain and labor shortage issues.

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