Sunday, 24 February 2013

Razor Blades and Infant Formula

Disposable razor blades and infant formula don't seem to share much in common until we look a little closer at one concern of their consumers.

Here is a re-wording of an Early Day Motion from October 2012 in the UK Houses of Parliament: 

"That this House notes the exorbitant increase in the retail price of men's razor blade cartridges infant formula where in three seven years the price has increased in some cases by almost 100 per cent, some 10 times greater than the price of inflation; and calls on the Office of Fair Trading and consumer bodies to investigate this sector where it has been reported that the production costs per cartridge 100g are in pence while marketing, packaging and profiteering are resulting in very high margins of around a thousand per cent, with an eight-cartridge pack a standard 900g tin  of infant formula currently retailing at many outlets at approximately 22 £10."

Infant formula is the main food source for babies who are not breastfed.  It is outrageous that there isn't similar interests its retail costs as in that for razor blades.  The price of formula averaged 52p per 100g in 2005, 68p per 100g in 2007 now costs approximately 98p for the same volume today.  

A walk through the the baby aisle now have baby formula with anti-theft security tags on them.  Something it shares with hair dye, booze and body wax strips.  Formula is hardly an option like the other three things mentioned.  So where is the social and political concern for this issue?

Cold Comfort from Danone

Save the Children's campaign to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates Is now last week's news.  After the hue and cry over how this campaign will guilt mothers in the UK and the rest of the English speaking (first world) world, this  week, it is quietly leaking out in the press that Aptamil Comfort and Cow and Gate Comfort are unavailable in the UK.  It has been hard to find for a few weeks now with parents on message boards and Facebook groups asking if other mothers know of shops or chemists still in supply.

Danone, the owner of the Aptamil and Cow and Gate brands, has shared with the press that it is a shortage of maize starch, used as a thickener in their Comfort brands, that has caused the problem.

With Danone saying that these brands won't be available again  till mid March, neither option is viable.  Danone is referring parents to its 'Careline' but other that apologies, they don't seem able to assist in any way. The NCT has been trying to coordinate mothers with some of these milks to give to other mums while some parents have resorted to bidding for formula on eBay to feed their babies.

This first world problem shows how quickly first world parents can find that they cannot feed their babies adequately if a problem develops in the supply chain.   A tin of formula doesn't last most babies a week and bidding on eBay is not sustainable.  The more links there are in the supply and distribution chain the more vulnerable a food source becomes.  I guess I don't have to say 'beef' to anyone now.

With climate change in little doubt this temporary supply difficulty is a warning shot that things can become a lot worse for all babies if their food source is not protected.  Last year's drought in the USA will undoubtedly continue to push up the price of cattle feed which will have a knock on effect on the price of formula. Before the next ingredient shortage strikes some parents are finding that they are already cutting back on other things to pay for formula which has nearly doubled in price since 2005.

Surely it is time to support mothers in the UK and elsewhere with more effective support in the feeding choice from birth rather than increase the dissonance of 'making mothers guilty' and other useless platitudes.