Posts tagged with "BBC"

Going down? Elon Musk’s drop in fortunes breaks world record

January 12, 2023

Elon Musk has broken the world record for the largest loss of personal fortune in history. From November 2021 through December 2022 he lost around US$165bn (£137bn), Guinness World Records has announced in a blog on its website.

The figures are based on data from publisher Forbes, but Guinness said other sources suggested Musk’s losses could have been higher. The drop in valuation follows a plunge in value of shares in Musk’s electric car firm Tesla after he bought Twitter last year.

His US$44bn (£36bn) takeover of the social media company has sparked concerns among investors that Musk is no longer giving Tesla enough attention, reports the BBC.

Musk’s losses since November 2021 surpass the previous record of US$58.6bn (£47bn), suffered by Japanese tech investor Masayoshi Son in 2000.

The estimated loss is based on the value of his shares, which could regain their value—meaning that Musk’s wealth would increase again.

In December, the Tesla boss lost his position as richest person in the world to Bernard Arnault, the chief executive of French luxury goods company LVMH, which owns fashion label Louis Vuitton.

The value of Tesla shares dropped around 65% in 2022, in part because of Tesla’s performance. The firm delivered just 1.3 million vehicles during the year—falling short of Wall Street expectations.

However, Musk’s takeover of Twitter—where he has sparked controversy by firing large numbers of staff and changing content moderation policies—is behind most of the share slump.

Many Tesla investors believe he should be focusing on the electric vehicle company as it faces falling demand amid recession fears, rising competition, and COVID-linked production challenges.

“Long-term fundamentals [at Tesla] are extremely strong. Short-term market madness is unpredictable,” Musk tweeted after the stock markets closed for the year in December 2022.

Musk is now worth about US$178bn (£152bn), according to Forbes, while Bernard Arnault has an estimated value of US$188bn (£155bn).

Research contact: @BBCNews

Nine dazzling facts about Venezuela’s Catatumbo lightning—a year-round electrical storm

January 4, 2023

Lightning was, in all likelihood, the very first source of fire on planet Earth—and it remains, along with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, one of nature’s most amazing displays of power.

But, almost no place on the planet is the weather phenomenon more dazzling on a consistent basis that in Venezuela, near the confluence of the Catatumbo River and Lake Maracaibo. In that area, often called Earth’s most electric spot, lightning makes an appearance almost every day of the year, reports Mental Floss.

The rayo del Catatumbo (Catatumbo lightning), also known as the Faro de Maracaibo (Maracaibo beacon), puts forth an average of 232.52 flashes of lightning per square kilometer each year. According to NASA, the energy released during just ten minutes of Catatumbo lightning could illuminate the whole of South America.

We can’t keep all that lighting in a bottle, so here are ten essential facts about the astounding phenomenon:

In 2016, Catatumbo took the crown as the world’s top lighting hotspot. Using data collected between 1997 and 2015 by NASA’s lightning image sensor on its Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite, researchers identified the Catatumbo zone of Lake Maracaibo as the lightning capital of the world. According to experts at Zulia State University in Venezuela, Catatumbo lighting is most active during the rainy season in September and October; and least active in January and February, the dry season. On average, electrical storms occur 260 nights appear per year, predominantly between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. The second- and third-most electric locales in the world are Kabare and Kampene, two towns in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Catatumbo lighting is born from a continuous dance of cold and heat. In the past, people attributed Catatumbo lightning to the action of uranium in the bedrock, methane released by the surrounding swamps, or the massive oil deposits of Lake Maracaibo. But the most likely explanation lies in the mechanics of wind and the unique topographic conditions of the region—especially at the lake’s southern confluence with the Catatumbo River. The Andes Mountains surround the lake on three sides, leaving an opening only in the north. There, warm waters from the Caribbean Sea flow into the lake, where the hot sun draws up moisture into the air and traps it among the slopes. In the evening, cold winds blow down from the mountain peaks and collide with the humid air, forming cumulonimbus clouds. Warm water droplets and ice crystals smack into each other and emit violent electrical charges in the form of constant lightning.

Catatumbo lightning generates a huge amount of ozone. Venezuelan environmentalist Erik Quiroga suggested to the BBC that ozone generated by Catatumbo lightning could replenish the ozone layer. But Ángel Muñoz, now an associate research scientist at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Science and Society, told a Venezuelan newspaper in 2014 that “the time it would take for the ozone produced by the Catatumbo lightning to ascend to the ozone layer is at least six months, so we do not see a viable mechanism for it to contribute to the regeneration of the planetary ozone layer.”

A severe drought interrupted the Catatumbo lightning for months. Wind and heat are crucial for the lightning’s display, but so is abundant moisture. In 2010 a severe drought caused by El Niño stopped the constant lightning storms, worrying the area’s residents. Months later, perhaps as a result of the dry El Niño weather pattern shifting to the wetter, stormier La Niña pattern, the lightning strikes returned. Muñoz and his colleagues suggest that these seasonal drivers can help scientists predict lightning activity over the long term.

A prominent explorer had theories about the lightning’s origin. From 1799 to 1800, the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt and naturalist Aimé Bonpland made a year-long visit to Venezuela. Although he didn’t observe the lightning in person, Humboldt heard about its regular displays and wondered about its cause.  “What is the luminous phenomenon known by the name of the Maracaybo lantern that is seen every night on the seaside as well as in the interior of the country [?],” he wrote in Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent (translated from Spanish). “The distance of more than 40 leagues at which the light is distinguished has led to the belief that it could be the effect of a storm or electrical explosions that take place daily in a mountain gorge and it is even assured that the sound of thunder is heard when one approaches the lantern.” He was correct on that point, but also reported that other observers had attributed the lightning to “an air volcano” created by deposits of asphalt.

Agustín Codazzi was the first observer to make a spot-on diagnosis. Codazzi, an Italian adventurer, geographer, and cartographer, moved to Venezuela following its independence from the Spanish Empire. He was tasked with creating accurate maps of the region, including Lake Maracaibo. He observed the lightning firsthand and noted in 1841 that there was more rain where the Catatumbo River ended. “It seems that […] the electrical matter is concentrated in those places, in which it is observed every night a luminous phenomenon that is like lightning that from time to time ignites the air,” he wrote. In the 20th century, when it became clear that storms caused the phenomenon, Venezuelans stopped calling it the Maracaibo Beacon and renamed it Catatumbo lightning.

The Catatumbo lightning helped Venezuela win independence. On July 24, 1823, the electrical storm acted like a lighthouse for the naval forces of Admiral José Prudencio Padilla, who managed to defeat to a squadron of Spanish ships in the battle of Lake Maracaibo. It was a decisive and final victory for the independence of Venezuela. A well-known myth suggests that a raid by English privateer Sir Francis Drake was thwarted by the light of the Catatumbo storms in 1595, an event celebrated by contemporary Spanish writer Lope de Vega in his epic poem “La Dragontea.” In fact, Drake never attacked Maracaibo, and the light that Lope de Vega describes came from burning boats during the battle of San Juan in Puerto Rico.

The Catatumbo lightning is pictured on a regional flag. Indigenous people living around Lake Maracaibo take great pride in the lightning show. The Bari people believe that it is caused by hundreds of supernatural fireflies, while the Wayuu people consider it the work of the souls of the deceased. In the 20th century, when photos and filming of the storms began to circulate in the media, Venezuelans (and especially those in Zulia State) adopted the phenomenon as their symbol. Several traditional songs of the Zulia State and the regional anthem mention it; and, since 1991, it has been pictured on the Zulia State flag.

Research contact: @mentalfloss 

British man and American woman, both 100, have been pen pals since 1938: ‘She’s always been there’

December 6, 2022

Friends for life: Although there has almost always been a pond between them, Geoff Banks, who is from England, and Celesta Byrne, who is from the United States, have been writing to each other since 1938, according to SWNS.

According to a report by People magazine, “I honestly struggle to remember how we got in touch, but I was talking to Celesta recently and I think it was something to do with an American school’s scheme,” Banks, a former engineer, explains. “They matched us up with Americans for a pen pal relationship, and somehow I ended up with this letter from an American girl, and we just kept corresponding ever since,” he added.

But, after decades of sending letters overseas, the pair—who both turned 100 this year—now rely on emails and Zoom calls.

“Now of course she is partially sighted, so I correspond mainly by email,” Banks says. “Email is much easier for me these days, too, because I can’t write very well anymore.”

Video chatting is an even newer development.,”I have this new thing called Zoom, I think, now to chat with her, but I leave all the technology to younger people. They’re much better at pressing all the buttons,” he remarks.

One thing that’s never changed over the years is their unique bond.”She’s a very interesting person,” Banks told the BBC. “We exchange stories and she’s very good to talk to.”

He added, “Celeste has had a number of children and unfortunately lost one recently, so we chat about family too.”

However, there is one topic that’s off limits. “We don’t discuss the football,” he said.

As for whether there was ever any spark between the pair, Byrne, who lived in New Jersey but has since moved to Texas to be near her family, shut down any questions of romance. “No, we’re just friends, like people who live next door,” she told the BBC. “You ask how they’re doing, you say a few words and then you both go to work.”

Although they’ve only met in person two times—first in 2002 during a trip to New York and then again two years later—Banks says that his friendship with Byrne has always been something he can depend on—even when WWII made writing to each other difficult.

“She’s always been there to write to, even if it was just birthday cards and Christmas cards,” he told SWNS.

Speaking with the BBC he noted that it’s been a “source of great satisfaction to write to her for over all these years.”

Research contact: @people

‘Wild swimming’: Healthful activity or high-risk recreation?

October 4, 2022

If you happen to know an outdoor or wild swimmer—a swimmer who prefers rivers and lakes to heated pools—you are part of a growing subculture, reports The Guardian.

 The Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) had 300 members when it was launched in 2006; now it has 175,000 across its social media sites and one million visitors annually to its website. The society recently polled its members on why they swim outdoors: 94% responded that the main reason was “joy” — reporting that they feel happier and less stressed after a dip.

And this, apparently, is te perfect time of year to make the leap: “Have you heard of the Pareto principle?” asks Dr. Mark Harper, an anesthesiologist, researcher, and author of “Chill: The Cold Water Swim Cure.

He explains, “It’s where 20% of the effort produces 80% of the results. So we’re in that beautiful time now where, if the temperature is between 15 and 20C, you’re probably getting 80% of the benefits of the cold water for just 20% of the effort.”

Such testimonies are anecdotal, of course, and even the OSS acknowledges the society is “a borderline cult built on enthusiasm.” And this remains a recurring question mark for wild swimming and cold-water immersion: despite all the evangelical claims made by fans, there has so far been minimal scientific evidence to confirm them. That’s not to say that the benefits do not exist; only that there have not been sufficient, rigorous clinical trials to prove them either way.

That, though, is starting to change, and in the past month academic papers have been coming thick and fast. Harper was part of a team that looked into whether sea swimming could be “a novel intervention for depression and anxiety”. The study enrolled 53 people—47 women, five men, one non-binary—in an eight-session swimming course and tracked their wellbeing by questionnaire. Harper says there was a notable upturn in many of the participants’ mental health, and he is particularly heartened by the fact that, three months later, 80% were still swimming outdoors, reporting that they found the activity helpful.

Harper also worked on a project this year with frontline NHS workers to see if outdoor swimming could improve symptoms of stress and work-related burnout. Participants swam in an outdoor pool in London or in the sea in Cornwall—and overall reported a 14.8% increase in wellbeing scores after six weeks.

Before you go and hurl yourself in the nearest lake, however, there were words of caution in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. There, Mike Tipton, professor of human and applied physiology and a global expert on extreme environments, points out there was a 52% swell in HM Coastguard callouts between 2018 and 2021 connected to open-water swimming. There’s also been a 79% increase in deaths—from 34 to 61 in the U.K.

Tipton was encouraged to publish the paper after seeing the BBC reality series, Freeze the Fear with Wim Hof, about the Dutch extreme athlete who has spent more than three hours in direct, full-body contact with ice. “Although there was a safety message at the start, if you watch those programs you would be inclined to go and put yourself into cold water,” says Tipton. “So we thought there was some need for just saying: ‘Look, we are a tropical animal and this is one of the largest stresses you can place upon the body.’ We’re not trying to stop people doing things; we’re not the Fun Police. But there are ways of maximizing the potential benefits and minimizing the risks.”

Here, Tipton and Harper are in full agreement. If you are contemplating dipping a toe into outdoor swimming, especially this winter, you should have a medical assessment first. Start in a spot with lifeguards and enter the water gradually: Resist the urge to jump, dive, cannonball. Spend less than ten minutes in the water, even if you don’t feel cold. From personal experience of outdoor swimming, this is a key point: I’ve had dips where I’ve timed it right and felt giddy all day, and others where I’ve spent too long in the water and my teeth are still chattering two hours later.

Tipton and Harper are also both clear that more research needs to be done before we assign transformative powers to outdoor swimming. “I can recognize the anecdotal responses—what we don’t know about going open-water swimming, though, is what the active ingredient is,” says Tipton. “So when you go open-water swimming you meet up with friends, you go into a beautiful environment, you’re floating, you’re supported by the water, you do some exercise, you do get cold, you come out and you have cake.

“There are so many other factors,” Tipton goes on, “but we don’t know which one is actually responsible for any claimed beneficial effects.”

Research contact: @guardian

Britain’s royal family gathers at Balmoral amid concerns for Queen’s health

September 9, 2022

Just after 12.30 p.m. (7:30 a.m. EDT) in London on Thursday, September 8, Buckingham Palace issued a statement that doctors were concerned about the health of the long-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, age 96, and were recommending that she remain under medical supervision.

Soon after that, the BBC reports, all of the Queen’s children either had arrived to be with her at Balmoral Castle in Scotland or were on their way.

Prince Charles, Camilla, and Princess Anne were already at Balmoral. Prince William, the Queen’s eldest grandson and second in line to the throne, was flying there; while his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, remained in Windsor, where her children had commenced their first full day of school for the year.

Prince William’s brother, Prince Harry, and his wife, Meghan, had been in the UK in recent days for engagements. They immediately canceled plans so that Prince Harry could be at the Queen’s side.

On Tuesday, September 6, newly appointed UK Prime Minister Liz Truss had, herself, travelled to Balmoral to be appointed by the Queen, in a break with tradition, as the monarch would have normally seen her in London. But the Queen had suffered from mobility issues recently and so the meeting was moved to Balmoral.

At 7:39 a.m. London time, Truss tweeted: “The whole country will be deeply concerned by the news from Buckingham Palace this lunchtime. My thoughts—and the thoughts of people across our United Kingdom—are with Her Majesty The Queen and her family at this time.”

Research contact: @BBC

Editor’s note: The Queen died on September 9. Buckingham Palace announced in an official statement, “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon.” Following the announcement, a rare double rainbow appeared in the sky outside Buckingham Palace.

America bars ‘advanced tech’ firms from building factories in China for ten years

September 8, 2022

The Biden Administration has announced that all U.S. tech companies that receive federal funding will be barred from building “advanced technology” facilities in China for ten years, reports the BBC.

The guidelines were unveiled as part of a $50 billion plan aimed at building up the semiconductor industry. It comes as business groups have pushed for more government support in an effort to reduce reliance on China.

They are faced with a global microchip shortage, which has slowed production, the BBC notes.

“We’re going to be implementing the guardrails to ensure those who receive [Clearing House Interbank Payments System] (CHIPS) funds cannot compromise national security …. They’re not allowed to use this money to invest in China; they can’t develop leading-edge technologies in China … for a period of ten years,” according to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who discussed the conditions of the U.S. CHIPS and Science Act—signed into law by President Joe Biden on August 9.

She added, “Companies who receive the money can only expand their mature node factories in China to serve the Chinese market.”

The new law commits $280 billion to high-tech manufacturing and scientific research, amid fears that America is losing its technological edge to China.

The investments include tax breaks for companies that build computer chip manufacturing plants in the USA.

America currently produces roughly 10% of the global supply of semiconductors, which are key to everything from cars to mobile phones—down from nearly 40% in 1990.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington had opposed the semiconductor bill, calling it reminiscent of a “Cold War mentality.”

Some U.S. chipmakers already are experiencing the impact of Washington’s crackdown on selling American technology to China. Earlier this month, Nvidia and AMD were told by U.S. officials to stop the sale of artificial intelligence chips to China.

Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities called the restrictions a “gut punch” for Nvidia.

“This is really a shot across the bow at China and it’s really going to fan those flames in terms of geopolitical (tensions),” Ives had told the BBC.

Research contact: @BBC

Pelosi visit to Taiwan is expected by both Taiwanese and U.S. officials

August 2, 2022

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to visit Taiwan  as part of her tour of Asia, according to a senior Taiwanese government official and a U.S. official—despite warnings from Biden Administration officials, who are worried about China’s response to such a high-profile visit, reports CNN.

China considers  Taiwan  to be a breakaway province destined for reunification, and strongly objects to all acts that appear to support  Taiwan  as an independent sovereign state, according to the BBC. Already, the People’s Republic has threatened to shoot down Pelosi’s plane, should it navigate into the Taiwan area.

The stop in Taiwan—the first for a U.S. House speaker in 25 years—is not currently on Pelosi’s public itinerary and comes at a time when U.S.-China relations are already at a low point.

The Taiwanese official added that she is expected to stay in Taiwan overnight. It is unclear when exactly Pelosi will land in Taipei.

The U.S. official added that U.S. Defense Department officials are working around the clock on monitoring any Chinese movements in the region and securing a plan to keep her safe.

During a regular foreign ministry briefing Monday, China warned against the “egregious political impact” of Pelosi’s planned visit to the self-governing island that China claims as a part of its territory and reiterated that its military “won’t sit by idly” if Beijing feels its “sovereignty and territorial integrity” is being threatened.

“We would like to tell the U.S. once again that China is standing by, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never sit idly by. China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters, adding, “As for what measures, if she dares to go, then let’s wait and see,” Zhao added.

National Security Council coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said on Monday that the Biden Administration will support Pelosi on a trip to Taiwan.

“We want to make sure that when she travels overseas, she can do so safely and securely and we’re going to make sure of that.”

Asked if the United States was prepared for fallout with China over the visit, Kirby said, “… there is no change to our policy. No change to our focus on trying to keep a free and safe and open Indo-Pacific.”

What’s more, he stated, “There is no reason for the Chinese rhetoric. There is no reason for any actions to be taken. It is not uncommon for congressional leaders to travel to Taiwan,” Kirby told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on “New Day.”

“We shouldn’t be as a country—we shouldn’t be intimidated by that rhetoric or those potential actions. This is an important trip for the speaker to be on and we’re going to do whatever we can to support her.”

The issue of Taiwan remains one of the most contentious. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping discussed it at length in a two-hour-and-17-minute phone call on Thursday, as tensions mounted between Washington and Beijing.

While Biden has said publicly the US military did not believe it was a good time Pelosi to visit Taiwan, he has stopped short of telling her directly not to go, according to two sources.

Research contact: @CNN

Netflix plans real-life Squid Game reality TV show with $4.56 million prize, no deaths

June 16, 2022

Netflix is recruiting participants for a reality TV show inspired by its most popular series of all time, Squid Game—which was streamed by 111 million users during the first 28 days of its launch—reports the BBC.

However, it will not be life or death that is at stake, as depicted in the South Korean dystopian drama. Instead, 456 recruits from around the world will play games for which “the worst fate is going home empty-handed”— missing out on a $4.56 million (£3.8m) prize.

Netflix also confirmed that the popular series would be renewed for a second season earlier this week.

On Wednesday, June 15, the platform announced that its new ten-episode series—Squid Game: The Challenge—would offer the “largest cast and lump cash prize in reality TV history”.

“As [players] compete through a series of games inspired by the original show—plus surprising new additions—their strategies, alliances, and character will be put to the test while competitors are eliminated around them,” the release added.

Participants must be at least 21 years old. They must speak English  and be available for up to four weeks in early 2023 for filming.

The 456 participants are a nod to the fictional series, which features the same number of players, with its main protagonist Seong Gi-hun also referred to as Player 456.

Director, writer, and executive producer of Squid Game Hwang Dong-hyuk said in a statement on Monday, June 13: “It took 12 years to bring the first season of Squid Game to life last year. But it took 12 days for Squid Game to become the most popular Netflix series ever.”

Research contact: @BBC

Putin ominously warns Sweden of Russian ‘response’ if it joins NATO alongside Finland

May 17, 2022

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Monday, May 16, that her nation will formally apply to join NATO; in unity with Finland, which had stated its intentions the day before.

Her announcement came shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that there will be consequences that “could be nuclear” if both countries join forces with the North Atlantic alliance, reports Forbes.

Andersson confirmed Sweden’s NATO bid a day after Finnish President Sauli Niinisto  announced  his country’s intention to join the alliance.

Speaking at a meeting in Moscow earlier Monday with several Kremlin-aligned leaders, Putin said Sweden and Finland joining NATO would “certainly provoke our response” according to Reuters’ translation  of his comments.

According to Forbes, Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids break a long history of neutrality for the Nordic countries in a move that would add a significant land border between Russia and the military alliance—and represent a major fallout from Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which Putin said was due to NATO’s increasing eastern presence.

Putin did not specify on Monday what Russia may do, should its Nordic neighbors join NATO, saying Russia “will see what threats are created for us,” according to Reuters.

Although Putin didn’t say Monday, the Kremlin has previously suggested it may respond to Finland and Sweden’s NATO potential accession with nuclear weapons.

Last month, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said Russia may deploy nuclear weapons in the Baltic Sea, should Finland and Sweden join NATO—and a presenter on the state-run Russia-1 television station said on May 15 that Russia will have “no choice” but to deploy nuclear weapons to “neutralize” the threat, according to the BBC’s translation.

Putin said Monday he has “no problem” with Finland and Sweden and that the two joining NATO doesn’t pose a “direct threat” to Russia, The New York Times reported.

Putin’s statement strays from the Kremlin’s prior comments about the countries’ NATO bids, as the Russian Foreign Ministry said last week that the move would threaten to upend the “stability and security” of Northern Europe, indicating the Russian government is on its back foot following the historic applications from Finland and Sweden.

Research contact: @Forbes

America faces baby formula ‘crisis’ as shortage worsens

May 11, 2022

Major U.S. pharmacies recently have restricted sales of baby formula in response to a spiralling shortage of the special milk. CVS and Walgreens are among the big pharmacy chains to have imposed limits on how many cans of baby formula customers can buy at a time, reports the BBC.

The shortages intensified after Abbott— which makes top brand Similac—shut a key factory and issued a recall in February after finding contamination in its supply.

Pressure is building on the Biden Administration to respond to the issue. Republicans—among them, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas)—have called it a “national crisis” that the White House must address.

Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut said she was concerned that the Food and Drug Administration , which regulates formula makers, had responded “far too slowly” to the issue; and to the reports of problems at the Abbott factory in Michigan, which remains closed.

Abbott—the main supplier of baby formula to many of the state government programs for low-income women and children—said it was working with regulators to get the plant re-opened.

The company has been sending extra shipments from a plant in Ireland to try to address the problem—expecting shipments from the country to double this year, it added.

“We know that our recent recall caused additional stress and anxiety in an already challenging situation of a global supply shortage,” the company said in a recent statement.

“We are working hard to help moms, dads and caregivers get the high-quality nutrition they need for their babies.”

As of 24 April, the average out-of-stock rate across the country had jumped to 40%, up from just 30% a few weeks earlier—and 11% in November, according to Datasembly. There were 26 states with out-of-stock rates higher than 40%—compared to just seven states three weeks earlier, it said.

Due to increased demand and various supplier challenges, infant and toddler formulas are seeing constraint across the country,” the major pharmacy chain Walgreens said in a statement, adding, “We continue to work diligently with our supplier partners to best meet customer demands.”

Walgreens has limited families to buying three cans at a time—similar to other retailers. A 12.4 ounce can of formula typically lasts for about 15 bottles—or just a few days’ worth of supply.

Companies that produce items like baby formula—for which demand is typically steady over time—have trouble catching up when there is disruption, said Rudi Leuschner, director of the Masters in Supply Chain Management program at Rutgers Business School.

And as parents rush to buy as stories of empty shelves spread, that only makes the problem worse, he warned. “It’s not a situation where you can just snap out of it,” he said. “It was designed to run at one speed.”

While this year’s formula shortage may expose the fragility of the supply chain, it may not be enough to make a business case for backup inventories, Professor Leuschner added.

Overall, birth rates are falling, reaching the lowest point on record in the United States in 2020. Studies also have found that consumption of infant formula has been declining in favor of breast milk.

Research contact: @BBC