Processed breast milk awaiting distribution is seen at the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington as the US struggles with a shortage of baby formula on May 19, 2022 ( AFP / Brendan Smialowski)

Bill Gates misleadingly linked to formula shortage

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Social media posts suggest a shortage of infant formula in the United States is linked to investments by Bill Gates in an artificial milk start-up. This is misleading; the Gates-led investments come from 2020 and 2021, the company says it won't have a product for years and the factors behind the shortage have been made public in recent weeks.

"Now you know why there's a baby formula shortage and real beef is so expensive," says a Facebook post from May 16, 2022 that shows an image of Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft.

Other posts on Instagram and Twitter suggest Gates is profiting from or implicated in the shortage.

"Bill Gates is amazing. He launches artificial breast milk right as formula shortage hits America... It's like he's clairvoyant," says another Facebook post published May 15, 2022.

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken May 19, 2022

But the investments in Biomilq -- a start-up working to produce cell-cultured milk that can be used in place of breast milk -- date from 2020 and 2021. They come in part from the Gates-led Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, with a number of other investors.

A Biomilq spokesperson told AFP it is not yet ready to commercialize: "We currently do not have a product on the market and won't for four to five years. We are currently at a research and development phase."

The social media posts come amid a deepening shortage of infant formula in the United States, which officials say stems from a safety recall, import restrictions and a lack of market competition. On May 18, President Joe Biden announced the US military would help boost deliveries to ease the shortage.

Gates and other wealthy individuals have for years invested in companies involved in sustainable food production, including lab-grown meat and other products, based on the idea that it will reduce energy consumption and limit climate change.

The 66-year-old, one of the world's wealthiest people, has long been a target of conspiracy theories and misinformation. AFP Fact Check has debunked inaccurate claims about him and the coronavirus pandemic here, here and here

May 20, 2022 The headline of this story was updated.