Accuracy in Media

Salon wants to use the baby formula problem as an example of how the world is going to have to change in the face of climate change. That pesky globalization must change so that we can ensure domestic supplies of goods for domestic consumers. The only real problem with this is that U.S. baby formula is almost entirely produced in the U.S. for U.S. consumers – which is exactly the problem that’s happening right now. Baby formula is going to be one of those future textbook examples of what goes wrong when we don’t have that globalization.

Now that Republicans are drawing attention to a baby food shortage, the question seems to have been politicized: Should the supply chain issues be blamed on the party which holds power?

The answer is that our supply chain issues are global in scope — and in more ways than one. The product shortages are caused by the fact that most of our goods are transported across long distances to be used for manufacturing, sold or otherwise utilized. Imagine a giant spiderweb stretching all across the planet. Like a baseball smashing through each strand, unexpected problems can destroy key routes that allow our supply chains to operate.

They then go on to talk to that media-friendly Marxist, Richard Wolff, plus a few others of the same ilk, who explain this is just what happens when capitalism exploits the workers. 

Except the American baby formula market is almost entirely cut off from the global market as a matter of Federal policy. Ninety-six percent of what American babies consume is American-made. There are high – 17.5% – tariffs against importing from other counties. Those tariffs actually get higher the more is sent in too. The post-NAFTA trade deal with Canada was expressly designed so that American babies can’t be fed on Canadian dried formula. And as for European stuff – the FDA confiscates it because the labels are wrong. There’s a full listing of the constraints here.

The real reason this happens is the same one for the Farm Bill. American farmers should not have to face competition from foreign farmers. So, the American market for foods – including baby food – is deliberately sealed off from the global one. 

Sure, it’s possible to point to certain specific ingredients – palm oil say – which the US doesn’t produce but that doesn’t explain the current problems. Edible oils of all kinds only started rising in price two months ago as Russia moved into Ukraine – well after the American baby formula problems started. The Indonesian ban on the export of palm oil was only last week – thee is no time machine that passes that problem back some months. The major ingredient is, of course, dried milk. And American dairy farmers desire that they not have to face competition from foreign dairy farmers, the reason for the entire system of control.

Now, it’s entirely possible to argue that this is all an entirely grand idea. It’s equally possible to complain that it isn’t. Perhaps security of supply comes from having many suppliers. Instead of a system that has actually caused the current problems. Which is a closed-off and national market which then suffers one of the major plants supplying it closing down. Which is exactly what has happened. The Abbott factory is closed, and its production isn’t hitting the market, so, there’s a shortage. Because the system has been set up to make sure that no foreigners get to feed American babies.

We’ll leave the conclusion on that to you. Because that’s not our point here, nor is it our complaint. 

Salon is one of the leading progressive news sources. It ranks around number 70 in the lists of law and government outlets and gains some 8 million visits a month from that position. We would rather hope that an organization at that position would do better at the, umm, law and government part.

Here’s what our actual complaint is. It’s the lack of knowledge, the sheer ignorance of reality, that uses baby formula as an example of global supply chains and how these are all going to have to change as a result of climate change. The whole point of the current American baby formula problems is that it’s a nationally protected market. That’s why just getting some from somewhere else to bridge the gap isn’t possible. But this is to be used as that example about globalisation? Words fail us…..




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