Difficult to make more painful for a parent: not being able to feed his child to his hunger. This is an unimaginable stressful situation in which many families in the United States find themselves, who are experiencing a very rare shortage of baby milk.
According to data provider Datasembly, the stock-out rate of infant milk formula reached 43% at the end of last week, up 10% from the April average. The situation has only worsened since the shutdown in February of a factory of the manufacturer Abbott. 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 shortage represents a daily challenge for millions of families, but the crisis is particularly severe in the southern states, on the Mexican border, where mothers have very low social security coverage and work far from their children, which prevents them from breastfeeding, reports the New York Times.
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 old next week”, she says. 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 or New York. “It’s absurd”she continues, thinking back to when she even imported milk from Germany.
The situation really deteriorated when, 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, worsening the shortage already caused by supply chain problems and lack of manpower.
In San Diego, California, Olivia Espinosa and Steve Hohman are parents of two children, including Maya, three weeks old, who is lactose intolerant. “We had little choice but to switch to plant-based milk,” for lack of an alternative, he said. 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.
The Biden team in the sights of the Republicans
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). “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 the supply […] including bringing in Similac from our site in Cootehill, Ireland, by air and producing more liquid Similac and Alimentum”explained the group, which hopes to be able to gradually resume production in Michigan within two weeks subject to FDA clearance.
The case is now taking a political turn. “I demand action from the FDA (led by the Biden administration) to address this crisis“Launched Republican Elise Stefanik on Twitter. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has judged these shortages “scandalous and unacceptable”. On Twitter, he urged Joe Biden to “seize the situation quickly”.
The White House has assured that it takes this shortage of baby milk very seriously, which is turning into a political crisis for Biden. 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 a job that has been going on for months”justified his spokeswoman Jen Psaki, when asked about the reaction time of the American executive. “Our message to parents is: we heard, we want to do everything we can,” she said, pressed with questions on this 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 constraints weighing on the most modest families who buy infant milk thanks to food vouchers. 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.