A C-17 military plane carrying 78,000 pounds of specialty infant formula—enough for more than half a million bottles—arrived in Indianapolis, Indiana, from Germany on Sunday.
The Nestlé Health Science formula, including Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior, was made in Switzerland and trucked to Germany, where it was loaded onto the plane.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Sunday that it was imported under President Joe Biden’s Operation Fly Formula, which authorizes the Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments to pick up infant formula from overseas that meets US health and safety guidelines.
The specialty formula for children who can’t tolerate cow’s milk protein was produced in a Food and Drug Administration-approved facility and will be inspected before being distributed to hospitals, physicians, home healthcare facilities and pharmacies.
“Our team is working around the clock to get safe formula to everyone who needs it,” Biden tweeted of the formula cargo delivery as he was traveling in Asia.
Biden has also signed the “Access to Baby Formula Act,” which waives certain requirements of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that “because of the actions that we’re taking right now, we’re going to see more formula coming off factory lines …and more formula in stores starting as early as this week.”
He said the flight from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany packed with the specialty medical grade formula “will cover about 15% of the overall national volume that we need for that,” with more flights coming in early this week. “And we’re going to keep ramping that up until we get there,” to fill in short-term needs until Abbott Laboratories (ticker: ABT) gets its manufacturing back up to full capacity.
The shortage of formula has been building for months. Abbott voluntarily shut a factory in Sturgis, Michigan, earlier this year after inspectors raised safety questions.
On Saturday, Abbott Chairman and CEO Robert Ford said in a letter to a Washington Post: “We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage.
He said the investigation found no connection between its products and illnesses in four children who got sick but the FDA “did discover a bacteria in our plant that we will not tolerate.”
Last week, Abbott reached an agreement with the FDA to restart the Sturgis facility. Ford said in his letter to the Washington Post that Abbott will make EleCare first when manufacturing resumes to get that out first, and is creating a $5 million fund “that will be independently administered to help these families with medical and living expenses as they weather this storm.”
Abbott has also converted production lines of adult nutrition products at its Columbus, Ohio, plant to produce ready-to-feed liquid infant formula, and has been importing “millions of cans of our most widely used powdered infant formula from an FDA-approved facility in Ireland to the United States since the recall.”
Ford said the Sturgis plant will restart by the first week of June and the product could appear on store shelves six to eight weeks later.
More policy questions remain. Deese questioned on CNN why three companies control 90% of the baby formula production in this country. Separately, the Biden administration has already criticized concentration in the meat and poultry processing industry.
“It goes back to this question of how we can bring more competition in our economy, have more providers of this formula, so that no individual company has this much control over supply chains,” Deese said.
“And we’re going to have to work on that,” he added.
Write to Janet H. Cho at [email protected]
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