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The shortage of infant formula in the United States is a symptom of a broken system


It will take systemic change to repair the deep roots of the current crisis

If you or someone you know has had the blessing (or curse, depending on who you ask) of becoming a parent in the United States recently, then you’re probably aware of the lack of baby formula on American shelves. The most recent estimate of the stock-out rate for infant formula is 43%, according to Datasembly, even as workers in the United States continue to scramble to fight historic price increases across the market. of consumption.

How did we come here? If you listen to mainstream economists, politicians, or business, the answer is complicated and usually involves a mix of vague “Supply Chain Issues” caused by Covid-19, as well as the blame somehow being placed partly on the conflict in Ukraine. This is nonsense, and thankfully the majority of Americans seem to understand that the establishment has once again left them to dry out in the rain.

The story of the problem faced by millions of working families and parents across the country reveals how sick our economic system is. Abbott Laboratories is the producer of 43% of all infant formula found in the United States, according to a 2011 USDA report. A handful of other companies make up the remaining 57%, one of them being Nestlé with its notorious past of misconduct.

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Abbott Nutrition is also the exclusive supplier to the majority of state agencies for women, infants and children, and more than 1.2 million infants served by WIC are restricted to specific brands of “contract form”. This is significant because in February, parents reported several cases of children becoming ill and two cases of infant deaths after consuming products made at an Abbott Michigan factory.

However, the FDA became aware of multiple crimes and shady healthcare practices as early as October 2021, when a whistleblower report reached their offices. The FDA didn’t inspect the plant until January 31, 2022, and the recall wasn’t issued until February 17, 2022. The company, of course, promised to investigate itself, but a spokesperson said. already said the formula of the installation in question. “is probably not the source of infection in the reported cases” and “there has been no outbreak caused by the establishment’s products.” The FDA, however, found that many health regulations were being violated and harmful bacteria were present in the infant formula production line.

Between these findings and the extremely questionable practices exposed in the whistleblower’s report, why has the FDA taken so long to respond? Why are no charges filed? Why is no one held accountable? This is because we have a government and a business community that share a bed and a bank account and work closely together to ensure that ordinary people continue to be crushed and squeezed as long as their profits are maintained. The Michigan plant remains closed, and when such a heavy concentration in crucial markets like infant formula is permitted, a plant shutdown and coordinated corner-cut (as noted in the whistleblower’s report) are undoubtedly beginning to affect the lives of millions of parents and families. Not only that, but because there’s really no way to expand the infant formula market besides the birth of more babies, there’s no incentive in a profit-driven economic system. so that there is excess storage of infant formula in the event of a shortage. . The same can be said for the lack of certain health products like disinfectants and masks following the Covid epidemic.

So what has the US government decided to do to tame these shortages and relieve parents? With its endless budget to send troops to Somalia, bail out the rich and powerful, and supply arms to Ukraine, surely there is something the government could do. So far, however, it has continued its century-old policy of doing nothing to help workers. What SHOULD the government do? First, the folks at Abbott and the FDA should be held accountable like anyone else, given that their negligence has resulted in deaths and shortages while Abbott continues to reap billions in profits. From December 2021 to March 2022, Abbott’s revenue grew by 13.76%, while the company also spent billions of dollars on stock buybacks instead of fixing its facilities.

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The shortage of infant formula in the United States is a symptom of a broken system
The United States faces a shortage of infant formula

Abbott and other formula makers have shied away from predatory practices for years, so finally holding them accountable should be the very start of the conversation. Ultimately, however, nationalization may be the answer. If Abbott’s assets and production facilities were to be nationalized, they could function in the interests of society, communities and families rather than as a means for a select group of elites to live a life of luxury in the expense of the rest of us. The state could play a leading role in the production of infant formula at a much lower cost due to the lack of advertising and administration costs faced by privatized companies. Abbott workers should also be offered a seat at the table in terms of policy, production, planning and routine management of operations. The goal should be for the state to take on a teaching and directing role until workers are better equipped and prepared to handle things themselves. This would also have a positive effect on record inflation, as this state-owned company could then offer its more affordable products as a reference price for similar products.

The Biden administration has already acknowledged the failure of the so-called free market by invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950, which grants the federal government sweeping powers over the economy in times of distress and in response to questions. relating to national defense or the economy. security of Americans. The law will be used to require manufacturers to first fill orders related to formula ingredients before any other orders. This is a step in the right direction, but why has it taken so long and why don’t we apply this logic to all the other cases where neoliberalism, capitalism and orthodox economics fail to meet the needs of the people? Some commentators even have the audacity to attack this gesture as an attack on the “private property rights” and to empower the federal government. We need a government willing to fight on behalf of We the People, against established economic power and the oligarchs who continue to win their battles at the expense of ordinary people. A government like this will not be led by Biden or Trump, or any other Democrat or Republican, but rather by We the People.

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