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US Mothers Warned Against DIY Baby Formula

Cassandra Sherman



Image source, Angelica Casas, BBC News

Brandy Sloan was close to tears. The 43-year-old mother of two had reached a breaking point in her desperate search for baby formula when the fifth grocery store she rushed into contained the same as the previous four: empty shelves.

“You feel so defeated because you’re supposed to be able to feed your children and you can’t because there’s nothing there,” she told the BBC.

Brandy, who has a 15-month-old daughter and a recently adopted two-month-old son, is among the millions of American families struggling to feed their children amid a nationwide shortage of formula.

Some are so desperate that they are attempting to make their own infant formula substitutes. Google searches for how to make formula at home have increased by 2400% in the last 30 days, according to Google Trends.

Brandy is sceptical – and for good reason – but it’s understandable why some parents feel compelled to ask the question.

Supply chains have been strained throughout the pandemic, but an industry-wide infant formula shortage began to intensify in February when Abbott, a large manufacturer of powdered infant formulas, closed a facility and issued a voluntary recall after finding contamination.

The company has since reached an agreement with US regulators to work to re-open, but cautioned it could take up to two months for products to hit the shelves.

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden – who is under mounting pressure to solve the crisis – invoked the Defense Production Act, a war-time measure, to boost domestic production of baby formula. He also ordered the Pentagon to fly in shipments from overseas.

A bill to alleviate the shortage was also overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives.

An analysis by the retail research firm Datasembly found that 43% of formula products were unavailable nationwide in the first week of May, and soared even higher in states like Tennessee, Texas and Iowa.

In San Antonio, where Brandy lives, the shortage was 57% in late April, according to Datasembly.

To cope, Brandy said she’s seen a lot of people circulate a 1950s recipe for baby formula. “You get the [people] from older generations saying, ‘I turned out fine,’ but things are a lot different than they were a generation ago,” she said.

Image source, Angelica Casas, BBC New

Dr Steven Abrams, former chair of the American Academy of Paediatrics’ Committee on Nutrition, has also seen the same 1950s recipe online – and strongly advises against using it, diluting formula or attempting to come up with other homemade substitutes.

“The standard by which we develop infant formula is breast milk. We’ve come to understand breast milk better and better,” over the last 60 years, Dr Abrams said. “If they’re not breastfeeding, [the formula] has got to have all the nutrients in there”.

Indeed, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infant mortality rates have fallen dramatically in the last half century, from 29.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1950, to 5.6 deaths in 2019.

So-called “homebrews” are particularly dangerous in the first months of infancy, Dr Abrams said, when nutrients like iron – critical for brain development – must be present in a baby’s diet.

Homemade formulas also pose challenges with sterility and continued use can result in severe malnutrition and, in extreme cases, death.

If formula is not available in stores, the American Academy of Paediatrics advises parents to contact local paediatricians for samples, avoid big box-stores where supplies are more likely to be low, or switch to a store brand formula unless advised otherwise medically. In those cases, paediatricians can recommend available formula alternatives.

This week, the Academy also said that infants over six months could be given whole cow’s milk as a stopgap. Though cow’s milk “is not ideal and should not become routine”, it is a better than diluting formula or attempting a homemade substitute, it said.

A baby formula recipe from years ago:

— K. 🆘🪓 (@k_wuttt)

May 17, 2022

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The Academy also encouraged parents to use online communities and social media as a resource. But as the crisis deepens, in some online spaces those conversations can become toxic.

Becoming a new parent is already a stressful time, Brandy said her “nerve-wracking” journey has been made more difficult by online comments that pit breastfeeding parents against those who use formula.

“People don’t understand that not every mom is just able to breastfeed like it’s so easy,” she said, adding that she feels families with adopted children like hers have been “erased” from the conversation.

The shortage has also disproportionately impacted low-income women and children that rely on state-subsidised nutritional programmes to buy groceries. Nearly half of all infant formula sold nationwide is purchased through government-subsidised benefits.

Image source, Getty Images

It can take a crisis for those in power to recognise the existing inequalities impacting the most vulnerable, said Jessica Owens-Young, an assistant American University professor who researches health inequity. As prices rise to meet an increased demand, she fears there will be long-term effects on low-income families.

“In urban areas, where things tend to cost a little bit more anyway, where are people pulling their money from? Are they taking away money that could pay rent or electricity?” she asked.

Comments encouraging parents to “just breastfeed” or shaming those who rely on formula, tend to overlook the realities of breastfeeding, she said.

“The way we construct the dialogue around maternal and infant health is reflective of the broader society’s values around women and birthing people and children,” she said. “Mothers and nursing people have been shamed for their choices for centuries”.

Without an immediate end to the shortage in sight, Brandy said she’s trying to stay focused on the positive interactions she’s had online and acknowledges that a lot of parents are just scared. She also said she feels lucky. After putting an ’emergency SOS’ out on social media, a friend in Arizona mailed her a few cans of formula that she hopes will hold her over until the shortage eases.

“I could waste time being mad, but that’s not going to feed our babies,” she said. “It’s time to get resourceful. I think more should be done to safeguard us and prevent this from happening again”.

Additional reporting by Angelica Casas

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Kaliningrad Row: ‘Sanctions Have Brought My Factory to a Standstill’

Cassandra Sherman



Igor Pleshkov gives me a tour of his concrete business in Kaliningrad.

Not that he’s doing much business right now.

Igor’s factory has pretty much come to a standstill.

“We produce commercial concrete, iron concrete and paving stones. We first experienced a shortage of cement back in March, after Europe imposed sanctions on Russian banks.

“Trains with cement were being turned back at the Lithuanian border, because the rolling stock was owned by leasing companies who were under sanctions.

“As of June, we haven’t produced a single cubic metre.”

Kaliningrad is a unique part of Russia. This region is cut off from the rest of the country – the Russian mainland is 300 miles (480km) to the east.

It was the Red Army that seized Kaliningrad (or Königsberg as it was known) from Germany at the end of World War Two. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Kaliningrad suddenly found itself a Russian exclave in the heart of Europe. It’s sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, both members of the European Union and Nato.

For supplies Kaliningrad has been heavily reliant on transit routes through Lithuania. But this month Lithuania began implementing EU sanctions on certain Russian goods – including construction materials. It won’t allow them to transit through Lithuanian territory to Kaliningrad.

This makes Igor’s challenge to turn the business around as tough as concrete.

“These sanctions aren’t only affecting our business, they affect everyone,” Igor explains. “We aren’t making anything, so builders can’t build anything. There’s a chain reaction. We have nothing to pay contractors, taxes or wages.”

Image source, Reuters

The authorities in Kaliningrad say there’s nothing to panic about and they plan to bring in more goods by sea. But expect logistical difficulties and higher costs.

Back in Moscow, Russian officials are furious. They’ve been taking aim at Lithuania, the EU, Nato and the West in general.

This week Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s powerful Security Council and one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies, flew to Kaliningrad for meetings. There he warned Russia’s response – whatever form it takes – would have “a serious negative impact” on the Lithuanian people.

Russia accuses Lithuania of imposing a blockade on Kaliningrad. That’s something Lithuanian officials fiercely deny. After all, there is no ban on Russian passengers transiting through Lithuanian territory, or on Russian goods that are not on the EU sanctions list.

On Kaliningrad’s Victory Square, most of the people I speak to have only positive things to say about Europe.

“I hope we can reach an agreement with the Lithuanians on transit, because they’re not bad people,” Svetlana tells me.

“They’re not evil! The Poles aren’t bad, either. We don’t share a border with Russia, but with Poland and Lithuania. They’re like family to us. We need to restore relations.”

War in Ukraine: More coverage

12 March 2015

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EU Leaders to Back Ukraine As Candidate at Brussels Summit

Cassandra Sherman



Image source, Reuters

Ukraine is set to be approved as an EU candidate at a Brussels summit on Thursday, after the European Commission gave the green light.

Ukraine applied days after the Russian invasion in February, and the process has since moved at a record speed.

Its ambassador to the EU told the BBC it would be a psychological boost for Ukrainians.

But Vsevolod Chentsov admitted “real integration” could only start when the war was over.

Candidate status is the first official step towards EU membership and France said this week there was “total consensus” on Ukraine. But it can take many years to join and there’s no guarantee of success.

The Western Balkan countries of Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have been candidate countries for years; in some cases for over a decade. Bosnia and Herzegovina applied for candidacy in 2016 but has still not succeeded.

EU leaders also meet their Western Balkan counterparts on Thursday morning, ahead of the main summit, to “build on the existing close ties”, but discussions are expected to be difficult.

Some members states are pushing for Bosnia to be given candidate status, although that is not expected to happen. However, there are hopes North Macedonia and Albania may make progress.

‘Why should we wait?’

“We do not accept the idea of the queue,” Ukraine’s envoy told the BBC, arguing Kyiv’s eagerness could set an example to other states.

“Every state has its road map, has its path. And if there is political will, if there is support of society [and] business operators to move forward to implement reform in a bold and fast way, why we should wait?”

The real integration process will start when the war is over…. Definitely it will take some time and we are talking about months, not years to get to the next stage

Vsevolod Chentsov
Ukrainian envoy to EU

Moldova’s application is also recommended for conditional approval while Georgia is set to be turned down, although the European Commission said the country could belong to the EU in “due time”. More than 100,000 people attended a rally on Monday night in the Georgian capital appealing for candidate status.

Several EU states have agreed to back Ukraine’s candidacy, provided conditions are attached before accession negotiations can begin, including judicial and anti-corruption reforms.

Mr Chentsov has insisted some reforms can take place, even while the country is at war and not in control of its whole territory.

Image source, EPA

“We are not starting from scratch,” he insists, pointing to work carried out since the EU and Ukraine signed an association agreement in 2014. But it would be “logical” to carry out bigger reforms once the situation on the ground became more stable, he added.

Some EU diplomats have previously voiced concerns that giving candidate status could offer Ukraine false hope.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in May that the prospect of membership was decades away and the Nato secretary general has warned the conflict could last years.

But Mr Chentsov said no-one had a crystal ball and he felt there was a will “to help Ukraine to get there”.

Macron plan for broader EU community

As well as deciding on which countries should be given candidate status, EU leaders will also discuss food security in light of Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports, condemned by the EU’s foreign policy chief this week as a war crime. And they will assess President Macron’s proposal for a wider “European Political Community”.

According to draft summit conclusions seen by the BBC, the aim would be “to foster political dialogue and co-operation to address issues of common interest so as to strengthen the security, stability and prosperity of the European continent”.

The French leader has suggested the community could include countries waiting to join the EU such as Ukraine and the Western Balkan states, or even those that have left, which would currently just include the UK. However, a number of EU diplomats have rejected the idea as half-baked. The UK left the European Union in 2020.

The Ukrainian ambassador did not dismiss the idea out of hand, saying: “Probably it will be something to consider for the EU, for the UK to join and we can sit at the same table together with the EU, Ukraine and UK.”

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said her preference would be to build on existing structures such as the G7 and Nato.

War in Ukraine: More coverage

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Afghanistan Quake: Taliban Appeal for International Aid

Cassandra Sherman



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The Taliban in Afghanistan have appealed for international support, as the country deals with the aftermath of a devastating 6.1 magnitude earthquake.

More than 1,000 people have been killed and at least 1,500 injured. Unknown numbers are buried in the rubble of ruined, often mud-built homes.

South eastern Paktika province has been worst-hit and the UN is scrambling to provide emergency shelter and food aid.

Rescue efforts are being hampered by heavy rain and lack of resources.

Survivors and rescuers have told the BBC of villages completely destroyed near the epicentre of the quake, of ruined roads and mobile phone towers – and of their fears that the death toll will rise further.

The deadliest earthquake to strike the country in two decades is a major challenge for the Taliban, the Islamist movement which regained power last year after the Western-backed government collapsed.

The earthquake struck about 44km (27 miles) from the city of Khost and tremors were felt as far away as Pakistan and India.

Afghanistan is in the midst of a humanitarian and economic crisis, and Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a senior Taliban official, said the government was “financially unable to assist the people to the extent that is needed”.

Aid agencies, neighbouring countries and world powers were helping, he said, but added: “The assistance needs to be scaled up to a very large extent because this is a devastating earthquake which hasn’t been experienced in decades.”

In remote areas, helicopters have been ferrying victims to hospitals. International partners have been deploying medical teams and providing medical supplies.

Afghanistan: The basics

The Taliban run the country: The hardline Islamists took over Afghanistan last year, almost 20 years after being ousted by a US-led military coalitionThere’s a food crisis: More than a third of people can’t meet basic needs and the economy is struggling, as foreign aid and cash dried up when the Taliban took powerWomen’s rights are restricted: They have been ordered to cover their faces in public and teenage girls have not been allowed to go to school

Image source, Getty Images

Most of the casualties so far have been in the Gayan and Barmal districts of Paktika. A whole village in Gayan has reportedly been destroyed.

“There was a rumbling and my bed began to shake”, one survivor, Shabir, told the BBC.

“The ceiling fell down. I was trapped, but I could see the sky. My shoulder was dislocated, my head was hurt but I got out. I am sure that seven or nine people from my family, who were in the same room as me, are dead”.

A doctor in Paktika said medical workers were among the victims.

“We didn’t have enough people and facilities before the earthquake, and now the earthquake has ruined the little we had,” the medic said. “I don’t know how many of our colleagues are still alive.”

Communication following the quake is difficult because of damage to mobile phone towers and the death toll could rise further still, a local journalist in the area told the BBC.

“Many people are not aware of the well-being of their relatives because their phones are not working,” he said. “My brother and his family died, and I just learned it after many hours. Many villages have been destroyed.”

Image source, Getty Images

Afghanistan is prone to quakes, as it is located in a tectonically active region, over a number of fault lines including the Chaman fault, the Hari Rud fault, the Central Badakhshan fault and the Darvaz fault.

Over the past decade more than 7,000 people have been killed in earthquakes in the country, the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports. There are an average of 560 deaths a year from earthquakes.

Most recently, back-to-back earthquakes in the country’s west in January killed more than 20 people and destroyed hundreds of houses.

Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan’s emergency services were stretched to deal with natural disasters – with few aircraft and helicopters available to rescuers.

But more recently, the country has experienced a shortage of medical supplies.

According to the UN, 93% of households in Afghanistan suffer food insecurity. Lucien Christen, from the Red Cross, said Afghanistan’s “dire economic situation” meant “they’re [Afghan families] not able to put food on the table”.

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