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Baby formula shortage sends US parents into panic

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Grocery store shelves where baby formula is typically stocked are locked and nearly empty in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2022
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It’s a nightmare for parents. The United States is in the grip of a severe shortage of baby formula — with a mass product recall aggravating pandemic supply chain woes — sending families on sometimes desperate hunts for the vital supplies.

And it has been going on for months, according to Sara Khan, the mother of three children aged 10, seven and six months.

“I’ve known about this issue for almost seven months,” she told AFP. “This did not happen overnight.”

Khan described the struggle to find just a few bottles of formula, and the distress at being faced with empty shelves at pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens or supermarket Target, whether in Washington or the surrounding area.

She has gotten by thanks to family and friends, who send her bottles of formula from Boston, New York and Baltimore when they find them.

“It’s horrible, terrifying,” she said, adding that she even ordered formula from Germany.

The situation took a major turn for the worse on February 17 when, after the death of two infants, manufacturer Abbott announced a “voluntary recall” for formula made at its factory in Michigan — including Similac, a brand used by millions of American families.

A subsequent investigation cleared the formula, but production has yet to resume, exacerbating already ongoing scarcity caused by supply chain problems and labor shortages.

According to the data collection agency Datasembly, 43 percent of the usual formula supply was out of stock, up 10 percent from the April average.

– Few alternatives –

San Diego, California resident Olivia Espinosa said: “There’s nothing on the shelves.”

Espinosa and her husband Steve Hohman have two young children. One of them, Maya, is only three weeks old and is lactose intolerant.

“We have to go just with a plant-based formula because we can’t try anything else,” said Hohman.

Normally, hospitals and pediatricians give parents formula samples to figure out which one works best for their child.

But few have any left to give.

Hohman said it was frustrating that his daughter cannot try other formulas that might be more nutritious for her.

Espinosa said the shortage has been “extremely frustrating and especially with a newborn, somebody who is requiring… very specific food right now.”

She explained she has difficulty breastfeeding and producing enough milk.

According to Khan, it is difficult even for babies who do not have special food needs.

– Surging costs –

People have suggested she try other brands, but “that’s not how it works,” Khan said. The formula has to taste good and not cause any problems such as constipation to the individual children.

And in addition to supply issues, parents are struggling to keep up with costs, as online sellers have doubled or even tripled their prices.

Robert Califf, head of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), highlighted the problem in a statement released Tuesday evening.

“We recognize that many consumers have been unable to access infant formula and critical medical foods they are accustomed to using,” he said. “We are doing everything in our power to ensure there is adequate product available where and when they need it.”

On Wednesday, Abbott said it “deeply” regrets the situation.

“Since the recall, we’ve been working to increase supply at our other FDA-registered facilities, including bringing in Similac from our site in Cootehill, Ireland, by air and producing more liquid Similac and Alimentum,” the group said in a statement.

And the shortage has been politicized, too.

“I called for action on (President Joe) Biden’s baby formula shortage months ago,” Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik charged on Twitter.

Her extreme-right colleague Marjorie Taylor Greene accused the US Congress of wanting “to send nearly $40 billion to Ukraine while American mothers can’t find baby formula.”

But White House Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday on CNN that the Biden administration is “working around the clock” to address the shortage.

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Disney profit slips but streaming TV subscribers jump

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Disney+ television streaming service grew more than expected while competitor Netflix saw its numbers wane in the first three months of this year.
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Disney on Wednesday said its profit slipped in the recently ended quarter but its television streaming service and parks were booming.

The entertainment giant reported net income of $470 million, just over half of the $912 million profit it made in the same period a year earlier.

Park attendance that had fallen due to the pandemic, however, rebounded and the Disney+ television streaming service gained 7.9 million subscribers to 137.7 million.

When adding in subscriptions to streaming Disney’s streaming services Hulu and ESPN, the overall number tops 205 million.

“Our strong results in the second quarter, including fantastic performance at our domestic parks and continued growth of our streaming services once again proved that we are in a league of our own,” said Walt Disney Company chief executive Bob Chapek.

He told analysts Disney is open to raising its streaming service subscription price in the future, but has no specific plans. Disney+ is pursuing a version of the service that would be supported by advertising, Chapek said.

Disney+ gained more subscribers than analysts had expected, in stark contrast to a dive in subscriber numbers reported by rival Netflix in the first quarter of this year.

A drop of just 200,000 users — less than 0.1 percent of the total Netflix customer base — caused shares in the Silicon Valley firm to plunge and prompted a shareholder to file a lawsuit accusing the streaming television titan of not making it clear that subscriber numbers were in peril.

Competition in the streaming television market has intensified, particularly from Disney+, with the cost of producing coveted original shows climbing as well. 

Disney said that as its streaming television service continues to grow strongly, its resorts and parks are generally operating without any of the significant Covid-19 related restrictions on capacity that were in place last year.

The pandemic does continue to vex film and television show production, Disney said, but it has been able to release films in theaters so far this year.

“Our slate for the remainder of this year is incredibly strong,” Chapek told analysts while discussing the company’s line-up of shows for streaming and theaters.

Chapek acknowledged challenges getting Disney films released in China, saying the situation there is  “very fluid and complicated.”

He was encouraged by the fact that a freshly released “Dr. Strange” film based on a Marvel comics character took in more than $500 million in its first week, even without being shown in China.

“We are pretty confident, even if we continue to have difficulty getting titles into China, we will continue to do well,” Chapek told analysts.

Disney shares were down nearly three percent in after-market trade that followed release of the earnings figures.

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Disney profit slips but streaming TV subscribers jump

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Disney+ television streaming service grew more than expected while competitor Netflix saw its numbers wane in the first three months of this year.
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Disney on Wednesday said its profit slipped in the recently ended quarter but its television streaming service and parks were booming.

The entertainment giant reported net income of $470 million, just over half of the $912 million profit it made in the same period a year earlier.

Park attendance that had fallen due to the pandemic, however, rebounded and the Disney+ television streaming service gained 7.9 million subscribers to top 205 million total, the company said.

“Our strong results in the second quarter, including fantastic performance at our domestic parks and continued growth of our streaming services once again proved that we are in a league of our own,” said Walt Disney Company chief executive Bob Chapek.

Disney+ gained more subscribers than analysts had expected, in stark contrast to a dive in subscriber numbers reported by rival Netflix in the first quarter of this year.

A drop of just 200,000 users — less than 0.1 percent of the total Netflix customer base — caused shares in the Silicon Valley firm to plunge and prompted a shareholder to file a lawsuit accusing the streaming television titan of not making it clear that subscriber numbers were in peril.

Competition in the streaming television market has intensified, particularly from Disney+, with the cost of producing coveted original shows climbing as well. 

Disney said that as its streaming television service continues to grow strongly, its resorts and parks are generally operating without any of the significant Covid-19 related restrictions on capacity that were in place last year.

The pandemic does continue to vex film and television show production, Disney said, but it has been able to release films in theaters so far this year.

“Our slate for the remainder of this year is incredibly strong,” Chapek told analysts while discussing the company’s line-up of shows for streaming and theaters.

Disney shares were up more than three percent in after-market trade that followed release of the earnings figures.

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Google making smartwatch in ‘ambient’ computing push

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This image courtesy of Google, shows a smart watch as part of the company's Pixel line
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Google on Wednesday said it is strapping a smartwatch onto its Pixel hardware line as part of an “ambient computing” vision to make its services available anywhere at any time.

The Alphabet-owned internet titan used its annual developers conference to showcase a Pixel line expanding to include a smartwatch and tablet as well as upgraded earbuds and a more affordable version of its flagship smartphone.

Backed up by artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and sophisticated custom mobile chips, the family of gadgets is intended to work seamlessly together to be conveniently available when desired, Google senior vice president of hardware and services Rick Osterloh said during a briefing.

“All these things work in concert on our vision of ambient computing,” Osterloh said.

“Providing the help people need, whenever they need it.”

The Pixel Watch will be released late this year, along with a new premium Pixel 7 smartphone, with pricing and other details to be disclosed closer to launch, Google said. 

The first Pixel smartwatch designed and built by Google will integrate health features from Fitbit, which Alphabet bought in a $2.1 billion deal that closed last year, and take on market leading Apple Watch.

“It just takes time to integrate a company with all the technology and people that Fitbit has,” Osterloh said of the Pixel smartwatch timing.

There will be a version of the Pixel Watch that synchs to Android-powered and one that has its own wireless internet connectivity, the internet giant said.

Google is also working on a Pixel tablet computer expected to be released next year, figuring their is an interest in large screen mobile devices even if that overall market has been lackluster.

“We’ve got a lot going on in the Pixel pipeline and it represents investments across all different kinds of technologies,” Osterloh said.

A smaller version of the Pixel 6 smartphone released by Google late last year will hit shelves on July 28 at a price of $449, along with new Pixel Buds Pro ear pieces priced at $199.

While smartphones powered by Google’s free Android operating software dominate the global market, the Silicon Valley company’s Pixel models have amassed scant share.

“We’re really investing a lot and expanding the mobile part of our vision,” Osterloh said.

“It’s like an iceberg and that you didn’t see a lot of what was happening underneath but now you can really see all these things coming to the surface.”

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