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US to fly in baby formula on military contracted planes

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US President Joe Biden speaks during a ceremony at the White House on May 16, 2022
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The US government will fly in baby formula on commercial planes contracted by the military in an airlift aimed at easing the major shortage plaguing the country, the White House said on Wednesday.

The lack of formula — the result of a perfect storm of supply chain issues and a massive recall — is leaving parents increasingly desperate, and has become a political headache for President Joe Biden as midterm elections loom.

The Department of Defense “will use its contracts with commercial air cargo lines, as it did to move materials during the early months of the Covid pandemic, to transport products from manufacturing facilities abroad that have met Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety standards,” the White House said.

“Bypassing regular air freighting routes will speed up the importation and distribution of formula and serve as an immediate support as manufacturers continue to ramp up production,” it said, dubbing the effort “Operation Fly Formula.”

Biden has also invoked the Defense Production Act to give baby formula manufacturers first priority in supplies.

“Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up in supply chains,” the White House said.

Initially caused by supply chain blockages and a lack of production workers due to the pandemic, the shortage was exacerbated in February when, after the death of two infants, manufacturer Abbott announced a “voluntary recall” for formula made at its factory in Michigan and shut down that location.

A subsequent investigation cleared the formula, and the FDA reached an agreement on Monday with Abott to resume production. But it will take weeks to get the critical product back on store shelves.

– Bridging the gap –

Biden wrote in a letter to the heads of the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services that imports of formula “will serve as a bridge to this ramped up production.”

“I request that you work expeditiously to identify any and all avenues to speed the importation of safe infant formula into the United States and onto store shelves,” the president wrote.

The shortage has left many parents frantic and fearful their infants may starve. Formula is a necessity for many families, particularly in low-income households in which mothers have to return to work almost immediately after giving birth and cannot breastfeed.

A further issue is that prices for the formula that remains have skyrocketed.

The desperation of parents is highlighted on social media, where posts shared hundreds of thousands of times urge people to make formula at home — a move pediatricians warn against.

“It won’t meet your baby’s essential nutritional needs, can be very dangerous to their growth and development, and can even make your baby sick,” Tanya Altmann, author of several parenting books and founder of Calabasas Pediatrics in California, told AFP.

The formula shortage also has political consequences, with the Republican opposition — which has set its sights on wresting back control of Congress in November’s midterm elections — seizing on the issue to berate Biden and the Democrats.

The United States relies on domestic producers for 98 percent of the baby formula it consumes. The average out-of-stock rate for the key product hit 43 percent earlier this month, according to Datasembly, which collected information from more than 11,000 retailers.

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Seaweed and 3D printers: Chile’s innovative approach to feeding kids

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Food engineering student Alonso Vasquez cuts cochayuyo seaweed to process it before putting it into a 3D printer at the lab of Chile's University in Santiago, on June 17, 2022
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Some dehydrated “cochayuyo” seaweed, some instant mashed potatoes and hot water: these are the ingredients for a nutritious menu of 3D printed food that nutritional experts in Chile hope will revolutionize the food market, particularly for children.

With a 3D food printer and a modern twist on the traditional use of cochayuyo, an algae typically found in Chile, New Zealand and the South Atlantic, Roberto Lemus, a professor at the University of Chile and several students, have managed to create nutritious and edible figures that they hope kids will love to eat. 

Pokemon figures, or any type of animal imaginable, are all fed into the 3D printer, together with the gelatinous mixture, and the food is “printed” out seven minutes later. 

“We looking for different figures, fun figures…visual, colors, taste, flavors, smells,” Lemus told AFP. 

But, he stressed, the main focus is on nutritional content. “The product has to be highly nutritious for people, but it also has to be tasty,” he said. 

3D food printers are expensive, costing from $4,000 to more than $10,000, but Lemus hopes that as technology advances, their cost will come down and reach more people. 

The technology is developing in the culinary field in dozens of countries, and 3D food printers are used to design sweets, pasta and other foods. 

NASA already tested it in 2013 with the idea of expanding the variety of foods that astronauts dine on in space.

– Superpower algae –

Chile is making progress with cochayuyo seaweed, one of the typical ingredients of the coastal nation’s cuisine, and which is rich amino acids, minerals and iodine, according to Alonso Vasquez, a 25-year-old postgraduate student who is writing his thesis on the subject. 

The young researcher takes dehydrated cochayuyo, cuts it and grinds it to create cochayuyo flour which he then mixes with instant mashed potato powder. 

He then adds hot water to the mixture to create a gelatinous and slimy substance that he feeds into the printer. 

“It occurred to me to use potatoes, rice flour, all of which have a lot of starch. The starch of these raw materials combined with the cochayuyo alginate is what generates stabilization within the 3D printing,” he says, waiting for the printer to finish creating a Pikachu figure of about two centimeters (just under one inch) and a taste of mashed potatoes and the sea. 

The project has been underway for two years and is still in its infancy, but the idea is to apply ingredients such as edible flowers or edible dyes to the menu to make them more attractive to children.

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SpaceX fires workers behind letter criticizing Musk

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Some SpaceX workers have been fired after circulating a letter critical of CEO Elon Musk
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Elon Musk’s SpaceX has fired several employees behind a letter critical of the outspoken billionaire’s public behavior, the aerospace firm said in a message to staff confirmed by AFP on Friday.

A “small group” of employees sought their colleagues’ signatures in a show of support for the letter and participation in a survey, SpaceX chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell wrote in an email late Thursday. 

The mercurial billionaire regularly uses Twitter to provoke, speak directly to customers as well as fans and sometimes offend with unfiltered or crude comments.

Shotwell’s message said some workers felt “uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views.”

“We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism,” she added.

After conducting an investigation, the company “terminated a number of employees involved,” Shotwell said, without specifying how many.  

The workers’ letter, first reported by website The Verge, criticized Musk’s behavior in public, as well as recent accusations of sexual harassment against him, as “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us.” 

“As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX — every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company,” the letter added.

Musk, who also heads electric car maker Tesla, is in the midst of roller-coaster $44 billion bid to buy Twitter that has brought even more attention to the entrepreneur.

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US stocks end rocky week lower ahead of holiday

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Wall Street stocks have been battered amid moves to raise interest rates to combat blistering inflation
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New York equities ended a rocky week mostly higher on Friday but lower for the week amid worsening fears of recession as the US central bank takes aggressive action against inflation. 

In the last session before the holiday weekend, the broad-based S&P 500, which entered a bear market earlier this week, added 0.2 percent to finish at 3,674.84, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index gained 1.4 percent to 10,798.35.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.1 percent to 29,888.78, after closing below 30,000 on Thursday for the first time since January 2021.

The S&P lost 5.8 percent in the week, its worst performance since 2020, while the Dow and Nasdaq dropped 4.8 percent.

Wall Street stocks have been battered amid moves to raise interest rates to combat blistering inflation.

Investors initially welcomed the Federal Reserve’s super-sized rate hike on Wednesday, but retreated after other central banks including the Bank of England joined.

The Fed promised there are more big rate hikes to come, and recent economic data has not helped sentiment, including weak manufacturing data that followed a surprising resurgence in inflation in May.

Karl Haeling of LBBW said “markets are oversold, but probably not oversold enough to call for a bottom.”

He said the modest gains Friday likely mark “a little technical pause.”

But Kim Forrest of Bokeh Capital Partners did not read a lot into the session.

“We’ve had a pretty dramatic sell off yesterday. And it’s a holiday on Monday and people probably left, so there are fewer traders out there today,” Forrest told AFP.

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