(Washington) Empty shelves, worried families: The White House pledged on Thursday to take very seriously the shortage of baby milk that the United States is experiencing and which is developing into a political crisis for President Joe Biden.
Posted at 4:20 p.m
Updated at 5:44 p.m
According to data provider Datasembly, the out-of-stock rate for infant formula hit 43% late last week, a situation that has worsened since the February shutdown of an Abbott factory.
Accused of indifference at worst, and wait-and-see attitude at best, the White House on Thursday laid down a number of limited measures.
“This is work that has been going on for months,” said his spokeswoman Jen Psaki when asked about the American executive’s response time.
“Our message to parents is, We’ve heard we want to do whatever we can,” she said, chipping away at questions on the topic that dominated her daily briefing.
One of the Biden administration’s plans is to increase imports, while the United States produces 98% of the formula milk it consumes.
She also says she is working with states to reduce the administrative burden on the poorest families who buy formula with food stamps.
The White House eventually appealed to the Competition Authority about the abuses associated with this shortage, specifically the online resale of infant milk at exorbitant prices.
Jen Psaki pointed out that one of the options still under study is to invoke the Defense Production Act, a text inherited from the Cold War that allows the US president to make economic decisions by decree.
Separately, Joe Biden spoke Thursday with retail officials and baby milk makers, talks that an administration official, who asked not to be named, described as “productive and encouraging.”
But the White House has not dared to predict a way out of the crisis while the Republican opposition has taken up the issue and lashed out at the Biden administration in the run-up to November’s general election.
Elise Stefanik, who was elected to the House of Representatives, asserted during a press conference that she had contacted the federal authorities in February: “Joe Biden has no plan. […] When we asked the White House about the shortage, they laughed.”
Randy Feenstra, an Iowa elected official, assured him that families in his area “have traveled 50, 75, up to 100 miles to find milk powder (ie, 80 to 160 kilometers).
Until Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who showed her frustration on Thursday: “Right now, babies are hungry, babies are crying, we have to respond to this situation now.”
Sara Khan, mother of three children aged 10, 7 and 6 months, told AFP her despair at the empty shelves in and around Washington.
“As soon as my baby was born I knew there was a problem and he will be 7 months next week,” admits the family’s mother, who has persevered thanks to crates of milk her family sent in the mail. and his friends.
The situation is even more distressing for the parents of children whose health requires special milks.
So Maya, three weeks, lactose intolerance. “We had no choice but to use plant-based milk,” says her father, Steve Hohman, who lives in San Diego, California.
On February 17, following the deaths of two babies, manufacturer Abbott announced the “voluntary recall” of powdered milk, including Similac, used by millions of American families at its Michigan factory.
The investigation cleared the affected milk, but production has still not resumed, compounding shortages already caused by the broader supply chain and labor shortage issues.