NY times

US alert: shortage of breast milk substitutes

The lack of compensation in the US has built up during the coronavirus pandemic and is causing both concern and frustration among parents.

Since spring 2022, there has been a shortage of infant formula on US grocery store shelves. In May this year, stores across the country were reported to have imposed limits on the number of products per purchase and household to prevent total sell-outs, and the situation is still fragile – months after the crisis began. Over the past year, scores of parents in the US have been scammed into buying products at exorbitant prices by those taking advantage of the situation for their own benefit. Perhaps even worse, the shortage in some places has led to parents trying to mix in their own substitutes, which experts have warned of the risks.

The reasons for the sudden low availability of breast milk substitutes were twofold. First, the industry was in a fragile state at the beginning of the year, having suffered from stoppages and delays in supply chains throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Then, when one of the largest US producers was forced to shut down production and recall products due to the discovery of bacteria in one of its production facilities, the crisis was real.

In response to the dire situation, President Joe Biden took two important steps in June: first, he invoked a 1950s federal law, the Defense Production Act, to ensure that domestic production of replacements would be given priority in factories, and second, he gave the go-ahead for mass imports of replacements to address the crisis in the short term. By enforcing the Defense Production Act, Biden was able to require companies to prioritize the production of specific ingredients to supply infant formula manufacturers over other companies that ordered the same ingredients.

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