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Fact Check-Bill Gates investment in lab-produced breast milk company is unrelated to baby formula shortage, contrary to posts online

Claims that Bill Gates invested in a company working to create lab-produced breast milk company just as the United States experiences a baby formula shortage are misleading. There is no evidence that the years-old investment has anything to do with the current shortage, the motives of which have been documented by Reuters and other media outlets.

Users making this allegation refer to an investment by a fund backed by Gates in company BIOMILQ. The company has said its product is “three-to-five years” away from being on the market.

“Whilst baby formula becomes scarce, Bill Gates begins promoting his new artificial breast milk technology. How very convenient,” one Twitter user wrote ( here ).

“Turns out, Bill “Macro Soft” Gates has been investing heavily in synthetic soy breast milk. He wouldn’t have anything to do with the baby formula shortage, would he? Create a problem (like Covid) and then step in with a “solution”?,” another one wrote ( here ).

Conservative commentator Candace Owens referred to Gates’ investment and the shortage in a tweet that has garnered at least 4,500 retweets as of the writing of this article ( here ) ( archive.ph/wip/JF8hM ).

BABY FORMULA SHORTAGE

Parents across the United States are feeling the strain, as infant formula all but disappeared from store shelves ( here ).

Pandemic-related shortages were exacerbated in February, after Abbott Laboratories, the leading supplier of milk formula in the United States, recalled some baby formulas, including Similac made at its plant in Michigan due to complaints about bacterial infection in infants who consumed the products ( here ).

The recall caused retailers to limit their purchases of infant formula. CVS said it last month limited in-store and online purchases of the products to three per order, while Walgreens issued a similar cap in March. Kroger has a limit of four products per customer and Target has had restrictions on online sales for weeks. ( here )

By the end of April, 40% of baby formula products were out of stock nationwide, according to data firm Datasembly ( here ).

“This issue has been compounded by supply chain challenges, product recalls and historic inflation,” CEO of Datasembly Ben Reich said in a statement ( here ).

On May 11, Abbot said it could restart production of infant formula at its Michigan facility within two weeks, after receiving the go-ahead from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Once production resumes, it will take six-to-eight weeks for the product to be back on the shelves ( here ).

Perrigo Company PLC, fabricator of store-brand baby formulas for retailers including Walmart Inc and Amazon.com Inc said on May 13 it expects shortages and heightened demand to last for the "balance of the year." ( here )

Outlets like the Washington Post ( here ), Vox ( here ) also covered the story.

BIOMILQ

In June, 16 2020 BIOMILQ raised $3.5 million of funding in a round led by Breakthrough Energy ventures ( here ) ( here ), an investment firm founded by Gates to support and fund innovations to counter climate change ( here ).

The North Carolina-based startup aims to produce breastmilk outside the human body ( www.biomilq.com/learnmore ). More coverage about the company can be seen ( here ), ( here ).

In an interview with CNN in March 2022 ( here ), co-founder and chief science officer Leila Strickland said “BIOMILQ is still three-to-five years off from getting a product to market.” The product would also need regulatory approval.

Contacted by Reuters, a spokesperson for BIOMILQ confirmed that timeline, said the company “does not have a product on the market” and is still in a stage of research and development.

Posts with this misleading claim echo the repeatedly debunked narrative that Gates “orchestrated” the COVID-19 pandemic, a claim that Reuters has addressed since 2020 ( here ) ( here ) ( here ).

VERDICT

False. The baby formula shortage experienced in the United States started after major suppliers recalled products. The shortage has been compounded by supply chain challenges and inflation. A fund backed by Gates invested in BIOMILQ in 2020 and the company has said its product will not be on the market for at least three years.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.

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