'TRY BREASTFEEDING! It's free and available on demand': Bette Midler is slammed by parents for making light of baby formula crisis as she claims Biden does have a plan to end it

  • Bette Midler, 76, on Friday waded into the nationwide shortage of baby formula
  • All states are running low, and have been for several weeks, after a February shutdown of one of the biggest producers compounded existing shortages
  • The industry is also a monopoly, with three producers accounting for over 90 percent of production - meaning the shutdown of one has a massive impact
  • Midler tweeted: 'TRY BREASTFEEEDING! It's free and available on demand'
  • An estimated 12-15 percent of mothers are unable to breastfeed despite trying, and many more are adoptive parents, or gay families raising children
  • Midler doubled down, and then insisted that Joe Biden did have a plan to end the crisis
  • Her comments were greeted with anger from figures including Donald Trump's speechwriter Stephen Miller to the executive producer of John Oliver's show

Bette Midler sparked outrage on Friday by responding to the nationwide shortage of baby formula with the message: 'TRY BREASTFEEEDING! It's free and available on demand.'

The tweet sent by Midler, 76, was immediately met with a wall of criticism from figures as diverse as Stephen Miller, Donald Trump's hardline speechwriter, and John Oliver's executive producer.

In response to Midler's tweet, many pointed out that a significant percentage of women are unable to breastfeed, despite their best attempts - one lactation consultant and author, Diana Cassar-Uhl, put the figure at 12-15 percent of all mothers.

Others noted that some babies have specific dietary conditions, and do not respond well to breastmilk.

Others still pointed out that tens of thousands of babies are adopted, and others born via surrogates.

And gay men - who comprise a huge faction of Midler's fan base - were also angered by Midler's remark, highlighting that a gay male couple wouldn't be able to breastfeed their baby or toddler. 

Tim Carvell, the executive producer of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, tweeted: 'Imagine having a large gay fanbase, many of whom are raising kids in two-dad households, and thinking this is a good suggestion.'

Miller, the staunchly loyal Trump aide, tweeted in response to Midler: 'What a profoundly offensive & ignorant statement.

'There are countless reasons why breastfeeding is not an option for many mothers—too many to get into here. And if you've been using formula you can't just flip a switch. Not to mention millions of babies with milk/food allergies…'

Bette Midler, 76, is seen in December at the Kennedy Center Honors. On Friday she sparked anger by saying the baby formula shortage could be averted if women breastfed their babies, as many pointed out it was not a simple solution

Ilyse Hogue, president of the progressive social change campaign, Purpose, tweeted: 'Bette, respectfully, this is a very bad take. I had twins. I didn't produce enough milk for both. Without formula, I would have had to have chosen which one got to eat. To say nothing of kids that get separated from the birth mothers very young.'

One replied: 'I love you Bette, but this is not okay. I fought to breastfeed my son, he kept losing weight, despite my best efforts, including lactation experts.

'It was emotional and heartbroken I felt like a failure and at 3 months switched to formula, because of the stress it put on me and my son.'

Another joked: 'No biggie, Bette says just get a wet nurse! (Never mind they charge $1000+ per week and that's something working families cannot afford, especially in a time where EVERYTHING costs more.)'

Nationwide, supplies of baby formula are at 43 percent, with some states such as Tennessee, Delaware and Texas reporting that their 'out of stock level' is running as high as 54 percent.

The problem was spurred by a February shutdown of one of America's largest baby formula producers, in Michigan, after the facility was found to be contaminated and two babies died after consuming the products - although the factory insists the bacteria in their factory did not contribute to the infants' death.

The shutdown exacerbated shortages and supply chain issues already caused by the pandemic. And it highlighted the strong monopoly of baby formula, with 98 percent produced within the United States, and three companies controlling over 90 percent of the supply. 

Many products from Europe cannot be imported, despite being produced to a higher standard in many ingredients, because they do not have the FDA-required labelling on the packaging.

Shelves are pictured empty of baby formula in New York City on Friday

Midler, however, doubled down.

'People are piling on because of former tweet,' she said.

'No shame if you can't breastfeed, but if you can & are somehow convinced that your own milk isn't as good as a 'scientifically researched product', that's something else again.

'The monopoly news is news to me, tho, no lie. #WETNURSES'

She also said she had confidence in President Joe Biden to find a solution.

Elise Stefanik, the Republican House conference chair, tweeted that Biden 'has NO PLAN.'

In response, Midler then retweeted a comment from podcast host Brian Tyler Cohen.

'Aside from the fact that you want to starve babies and accuse anyone who disagrees with you of being a pedophile, Joe Biden actually DOES have a plan,' said Cohen.

'It's right here. You are lying.'

He attached a link to the White House's factsheet from Thursday, detailing the steps they were taking to get the problem under control. 

Biden on Friday lashed out at critics as he defended his administration's actions to relieve the infant formula shortage that has panicked parents worried about feeding their babies.

'If we'd been better mind readers, I guess we could have,' Biden said when asked if his administration should have acted sooner.

Biden was speaking at an event on community policing and said he would only speak on that topic before - somewhat grumpily - conceding to talk about formula shortages.

'I'll answer the baby from the question because all of a sudden it's on the front page of every newspaper,' he said. 

The president predicted it would only be a 'matter of weeks or less' for there to be more formula on the shelves.

'We're going to be in a matter of weeks - or less - getting significantly where more formula is on shelves,' he said.

Biden said his administration was working hard on the matter and had 'nothing more urgent' on its plate.

'This is a process we working very, very hard. There's nothing more urgent we're working on that right now. And I think we're really making some significant progress,' he said. 

His comments came after the Food and Drug Administration said the baby formula shortage should improve dramatically in weeks.

Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said the agency will announce plans next week detailing how manufacturers and suppliers abroad will be able to import their products into the United States, as well as new options for U.S. companies.

The FDA is aiming for a streamlined process that will get more products on U.S. shelves while meeting safety, quality and labeling standards, he said. 

The $4 billion U.S. baby formula market is dominated by domestic producers, with imports limited and subject to high tariffs.

'We believe these and other ongoing efforts will help dramatically improve the supply in the U.S. in a matter of weeks,' Califf wrote on Twitter. 

'Our data indicates that in stock rates in retail stores are stabilizing but we continue to work around the clock to further increase availability.'

President Joe Biden lashed out at critics as he defended his administration's actions to relieve the infant formula shortage

Meanwhile, the House Oversight Committee is launching an investigation into the baby formula shortage and demanding records and information from four of the largest manufacturers.

'The national formula shortage poses a threat to the health and economic security of infants and families in communities across the country - particularly those with less income who have historically experienced health inequities, including food insecurity,' Democratic Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York wrote in letters to Abbott Nutrition, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestle USA and Perrigo, first obtained by ABC News

The Oversight committee is the investigative arm of Congress and broad authority to probe a variety of issues. 

The panel is looking into the price gouging around infant formula and the steps the companies are taking to address the shortages. 

Also, Maloney specifically asked Chris Calamari, chairman of Abbott Nutrition, for information about the recall of its formula after several babies were hospitalized and two died from a rare bacterial infection in some of its product.

Maloney wants answers to her questions, along with a briefing from the companies, by May 26. 

 

Baby formula boss warns crisis will last ALL YEAR as Biden claims it will be eased in weeks and only 'mind reader' could see it coming - despite shortages beginning last July

The head of one of the four companies that control 90 percent of the U.S. market for baby formula has warned that the shortages nationwide could last until the end of the year, as President Joe Biden's critics mocked his claim that 'only a mind reader' could have predicted the current crisis.

On Friday CEO of formula giant Perrigo Murray Kessler, told Reuters he expects shortages and heightened demand to last for the 'balance of the year.'

Kessler said their factories in Ohio and Vermont are running at 115 percent capacity, to compensate for Chicago-based Abbott's shutdown - but added that supplies would remain erratic for the remainder of 2022. 

'We have stepped up and are killing ourselves to do everything we can,' Kessler said.

At the request of the FDA, Perrigo is focusing on four items: the store-brand versions of Similac Pro Sensitive and Pro Advance, and Enfamil Gentle Ease and Infant, Kessler said.

The company added that it is making other formulas as well.

It also has a smaller business making some national formula brands, including Bobbie.

Murray Kessler, head of formula giant Perrigo, has warned shortages of baby food could last throughout 2022 

The closure of Abbott's infant-formula plant in Sturgis, Michigan, exacerbated national pandemic-related shortages, leading to empty shelves in big box stores and supermarkets and panicked parents.

Abbott's brands include Similac formulas.

Perrigo is working with retailers including Walmart and Target Corp so they 'get something each week,' Kessler said.

Retailers' allocations are based on an average of what the retailers received prior to 'this crisis,' he said. 

Meanwhile President Biden has sparked fury after claiming that the issue could be sorted within weeks - the same as what the FDA has previously said - without offering further unique detail on how he plans to tackle the issue.

He was also accused of being glib after telling reporters Friday that he'd have needed psychic powers to predict the crisis, despite alarm bells sounding as far back as summer 2021.  

The nationwide 'out of stock' level has been consistently above 10 percent since August, and in January this year The Wall Street Journal warned of an impending problem.

Brian Deese, Director of the National Economic Council, said on Friday morning that the White House had been urging states to take action to combat the issue in February - after the shortage was exacerbated by a February 17 recall of some products produced by Abbott Laboratories, and a shutdown of one of their plants.

Joe Biden on Friday claimed that no one could have predicted the current shortage of baby formula - despite his own National Economic Council chief saying on Friday morning that they asked states to do more in February

'We actually gave states the guidance on using flexibility the day after this recall happened in February,' he told CNN's Kaitlin Collins.

Yet Biden on Friday insisted no one could have predicted the crisis, which has seen desperate parents go from store to store, trying to find the urgently-needed formula.

The president was hosting an event about community policing when he was asked about the baby formula situation. He said he would only answer questions on policing, before somewhat reluctantly addressing the crisis at hand.

Asked if his administration should have acted sooner, Biden replied: 'If we'd been better mind readers, I guess we could have.'

His answer was seized upon by critics. 

The FDA has completed its investigation, but has yet to offer further details on when Abbott's plant in Sturgis, Michigan, can reopen  

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