Lots of empty shelves, so many anxious families. On Thursday, the White House assured that it takes the shortage of baby milk very seriously in the United States, 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 of 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. “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.

No exit from the crisis announced

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.

Jen Psaki indicated that one of the options still under consideration was to invoke the “Defence 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.

“Joe Biden has no plan”

The elected to the House of Representatives Elise Stefanik thus affirmed during a press conference to have 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 elected official from Iowa, assured him that, in his region, families “did 50, 75, up to 100 miles to try (to) find” powdered milk [soit de 80 à 160 kilomètres]. Until the Democratic boss of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who showed her frustration Thursday: “Right now, babies are hungry, babies are crying, we must respond to this situation now”.

Sara Khan, mother of three children ages 10, 7 and 6 months, recounts her distress over 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 the parents of children whose health requires special milks. So Maya, three weeks, lactose intolerant. “We had little choice but to turn 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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