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Major US baby formula producer agrees with regulators on restarting production

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Abbott warned that it will take six to eight weeks to get baby formula back on the shelves even afer it resumes production at its facility in Sturgis, Michigan
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Amid a US shortage of baby formula, officials announced Monday a previously closed manufacturer would re-open and encouraged foreign companies to apply to import their products — although it will take weeks to see more stock back on store shelves.

A “consent decree” agreement between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and major formula manufacturer Abbott outlines steps needed to restart production at the company’s plant in Michigan, which was shut down due to a recall, Abbott said in a statement.

“Once the FDA confirms the initial requirements for start-up have been met, Abbott could restart the site within two weeks,” the statement said.

However, the company cautioned that “from the time Abbott restarts the site, it will take six to eight weeks before product is available on shelves.”

Abbott, which produces the popular Similac brand used by millions of American families, announced a voluntary recall on February 17 after the death of two babies.

In a separate move, the FDA also said Monday it plans to accept applications from international baby formula manufacturers “who don’t normally distribute their infant formula products in the US,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a statement. 

Currently, the United States produces about 98 percent of the formula it consumes.

– Import applications –

The FDA plans to work to quickly review such applications, especially ones that come from “countries that have health and safety inspection systems similar” to the United States, according to a senior White House official. 

The process would also prioritize applications showing “clear quality and safety and nutritional adequacy,” a different senior administration official added. 

According to Califf, foreign-made baby formula could appear on US shelves within “weeks.” 

The Biden administration was also reaching out to US manufacturers to offer help with logistical challenges, such as shipping, the officials said. 

US families have grown increasingly desperate for formula amid a perfect storm of supply chain issues and the massive recall.

The average out-of-stock rate for baby formula hit 43 percent earlier this month, according to Datasembly, which collected information from more than 11,000 retailers.

Abbott’s agreement with the FDA to restart production at the plant in Sturgis, Michigan also needs to be reviewed by a federal court after the Justice Department filed a complaint on Monday.

The complaint says the facility “failed to comply with regulations designed to ensure the quality and safety of infant formula, including protection against the risk of contamination from bacteria.”

“The actions we are announcing today will help to safely increase the supply of baby formula for families,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

Robert Ford, chairman and chief executive officer of Abbott said he regretted the situation and that the company already had begun “working to implement improvements and take corrective action.”

“We know millions of parents and caregivers depend on us and we’re deeply sorry that our voluntary recall worsened the nationwide formula shortage,” he said in the statement.

The FDA and White House officials reiterated Monday that parents who are concerned about running out of baby formula should talk to their child’s doctor, and that it is not safe to water down existing formula or to make your own at home. 

The scarcity is the latest crisis to confound President Joe Biden’s push to get the US economy on sound footing amid the highest inflation in four decades and the ongoing global supply chain bottlenecks.

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YouTube Shorts touts 1.5 bn users, taking on TikTok

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YouTube Shorts creator events such as this one attended by (L-R) Rodrigo Zamora, Pedro De La Garza Reyes, Maria Bolio, and Marcelo Alcázar in Mexico City are among the ways the video sharing platform attracts audience-drawing talent
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YouTube on Wednesday said that more than 1.5 billion people monthly tune into its Shorts video service, which competes with global sensation TikTok.

Alphabet-owned YouTube and Facebook-parent Meta both added short-form video sharing formats to their services after TikTok — which late last year said it topped a billion users — became the rage.

YouTube Shorts went live less than two years ago, adding videos of no longer than 60 seconds to the mix of offerings on the platform.

“Shorts has really taken off and are now being watched by over 1.5 billion logged-in users every month,” said YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan.

“We know the product will continue to be an integral part of the YouTube experience moving forward.”

YouTube last year launched a $100 million fund to “reward creators” whose video clips attract audiences to the online stage.

YouTube has also put the Silicon Valley tech titan’s advertising skills to work helping creators generate income from content on the platform, which brought in billions of dollars in revenue in 2021.

Creators are taking advantage of podcasting, shorts, and live streaming at YouTube in a “multi-platform approach,” said vice president of the Americas Tara Walpert Levy.

“This approach is yielding real results; channels uploading both short and long-form content are seeing better overall watch time and subscriber growth than those uploading only one format,” Levy said.

She billed YouTube as a one-stop shop for people to “flex their creative muscles.”

TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, early this year began letting users upload slightly longer videos, raising the maximum length to 10 minutes from 3 minutes.

YouTube, Meta, and TikTok compete to be the platform of preference from popular online personalities with revenue making features such as subscriptions or shares in ad revenue.

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Small gun makers boom as US demand soars

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Matrix Arms owner and gun manufacturer Allen Farris checks equipment on a production line at his factory in Claremont, New Hampshire on June 3, 2022
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Tony Hook flipped through cell phone pictures of finished work by his New Hampshire shop, explaining how one customer wanted mementos of major life events: a gun to mark each of his children’s births.

Smaller gun makers like him are booming in the United States, thanks to ravenous and sometimes specialized demand for pricey limited-production pistols and custom rifles, engraved with bible passages or the American flag.

“He had us build a gun for every newborn he had,” explained Hook, the owner of RTD Arms & Sport. “So this is his son’s name and his date of birth,” he said, showing the engraving on a rifle.

The millions of guns produced annually in the United States are primarily made by the nation’s biggest manufacturers, yet smaller operators have poured into a market that saw production nearly triple from 2000 to 2020.

The smaller makers can churn out parts destined for major firms like Sig Sauer or Smith & Wesson and for enthusiasts and gun shops, or they can be manufacturers themselves of specialized or customized weapons.

“It’s just like maybe stitching your name onto your baseball glove or having custom pinstriping put on your car,” said Hook. “People do the same with their guns. It’s a piece of them.” 

– $1,700 guns –

The United States has a deep culture of gun ownership centered around a constitutional guarantee for Americans to keep and bear arms, and as a result has a sprawling market of weapons, gear and accessories. 

America also sees roughly 40,000 gun deaths a year, about half of which are suicides, though homicides increased at historic rates during the pandemic. 

In this context, the gun and ammunition industry added an estimated $70 billion to the US economy in 2021 according to industry group NSSF — perhaps not surprising when a single rifle from a smaller workshop like Hook’s can sell between $1,295-$1,695.

“Seeing that the gun doesn’t have to look so generic, it’s attracting people in that never considered it before,” he added.

The boom in gun making is illuminated in US federal firearms license statistics, with the number of so-called “type 7” permits that allow production as well as sales increasing by over 694 percent from 2000 to 2020.

Getting one of those permits requires paperwork from applicants that includes their photo, fingerprints and other information, while the government also does a background check and in-person interview.

Big states like Texas and Florida each had hundreds of manufacturers of all sizes that reported, as required by law, their production to federal authorities for 2020, the most recent figures available. 

Matrix Arms in New Hampshire is one of those makers and its CEO and owner Allen Farris said so many manufacturers have joined the industry that the market has been saturated for at least the past six years now. 

– ‘People are the problem’ –

Yet his company appeared to be staying busy, with a row of machines the size of shipping containers churning out gun parts on a recent weekday. 

He noted that each week they produce 4,300-5,300 rifle receivers — key central components to making a gun.

“Our state motto in New Hampshire is ‘Live free or die’ and I think the firearm industry kind of goes hand in hand with that,” he added.

Hook and Farris emphasized they did not want their guns to be used in crime or mass murder and said they followed the law — with Hook also citing his own instinct, if a would-be buyer sets off alarm bells — to try to prevent that.

Inevitably, as the gun making industry has grown, more people face the risk the firearms they produce could be used in a crime, mass shooting or suicide.

“We don’t look at it as guns are the problem. People are the problem. Whether it’s a gun, a knife or a rock — Cain didn’t kill Abel with a gun. He killed him with a rock,” Hook said.

Farris added: “If somebody has the motivation to go out and try to kill people, first of all they could choose a million different ways.”

“Obviously I don’t want my guns being used in that way, but there’s nothing I can do to prevent it at that point.”

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It’s a small world: Disney to fly guests round all 12 parks for $110,000

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"Disney Parks Around The World -- A Private Jet Adventure" will fly 75 mega-fans around the world, with VIP visits to Disney theme parks in cities including Shanghai
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Not sure which Disney resort to visit next summer? 

Disney chiefs have a solution for its most obsessive — and deep-pocketed — fans, offering a round-the-world package trip to all 12 parks, starting at a hefty $110,000 per person.

“Disney Parks Around The World — A Private Jet Adventure” will fly 75 mega-fans around the world in July 2023, with VIP visits to Disney resorts in California, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Paris and Florida.

Across 24 days, there will also be stops at countries which do not have Disney parks, including tours of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India and Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza.

According to its brochure, the “bucket list adventure” also includes a “rare opportunity to be a guest at Summit Skywalker Ranch,” founded by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas outside San Francisco.

“You’ll travel in luxury via a VIP-configured Boeing 757, operated by Icelandair, with long-range capabilities that allows for direct flights to maximize your time in each destination,” it says.

Guests will be joined on board by “experts and staff, who use an audiovisual system for informative briefings and lectures,” while Disney “leaders” and “Imagineers” will be on hand at various points.

As well as the movies, TV shows and theme parks it is best known for, the Walt Disney Company has long offered travel packages, including cruises.

With theme park attendances and tourism more generally recovering from the pandemic, Disney’s latest offering is its most luxurious yet.

The $109,995 per person price tag is based on two people sharing, with those who travel solo facing an additional surcharge of at least $10,995.

No discount is offered for children, who must be at least 12, and airfare to Los Angeles and from Orlando for the first and last legs is excluded.

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