Why the United States is short of baby milk powder

Lobbying and poor health coverage created the conditions for disaster.

One of the most alarming consequences of the global disruption of supply chains due to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine is seen in American supermarkets and pharmacies. The United States is currently experiencing a shortage of baby milk powder.

If this situation is particularly dramatic across the Atlantic, it is because the country is very dependent on powdered milk. The United States is one of the developed countries where children are the least breastfed.

Breastfeeding is common in areas that do not have easy access to good quality water, but the World Health Organization recommends that all women everywhere breastfeed newborns for their first six months.

There are several explanations for the importance of powdered milk in the United States. The first is their healthcare system. Parental leave is not guaranteed by law and few companies allow expressing milk at work. Thus, 60% of children are breastfed for less time than their parents had initially planned, this is particularly the case in low-income families.

However, this criterion alone cannot explain the shortage. France, which has better health coverage, has a level of breastfeeding similar to that of the United States, but no serious shortage.

The baby bottle duopoly

The other aspect of the problem is the powerful lobby of milk powder producers. The industry, which weighs 4 billion dollars in the country, is very largely dominated by two companies: Abbott Laboratories and Reckitt Benckiser Group. In 2021, 80% of baby milk powder sold in the country came from them.

To take the measure of the influence of the sector on the government, in 2018, at the Assembly…

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