First shipment of infant formula from Germany arrives in Indianapolis

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A US military plane loaded with more than 70,000 pounds of infant formula arrived in Indianapolis on Sunday from Germany, part of Operation Fly Formula, a Biden administration initiative that aims to rapidly increase supply source of food in a context of national scarcity.

Shortly after 11 a.m., a C-17 loaded with Nestlé Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formulas – two hypoallergenic formulas that can be given to babies intolerant to protein in cow’s milk – arrived at Indianapolis International Airport, where the plane was greeted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“This formula delivery serves an essential medical purpose and will help infants with specific dietary needs requiring specialized formula,” Vilsack tweeted. At the airport, he told reporters that the formula “would take care of 9,000 babies and 18,000 toddlers for a week”.

An additional 114 pallets of Gerber Good Start Extensive HA formula will ship “in the coming days,” the White House announced earlier this weekend. Combined, the shipments are enough to fill approximately 1.5 million eight-ounce bottles.

The Secretary of Defense approved military planes for shipment Friday night because no commercial planes were available. The process of shipping the formula from overseas would typically take two weeks, but instead took about three days due to administration work behind the scenes, White House press secretary Karine Jean said. -Pierre, to reporters aboard Air Force One as President Biden headed for Japan Sunday morning. .

“It’s a testament to the president’s commitment to pull every lever to get more infant formula to market,” she said. “And Operation Fly Formula is a tool we use to do that.”

Jean-Pierre added that the formula was made in an FDA-approved facility and that the White House is working with the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to ensure the formula “goes to those who need it most.”

Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, estimated that the formula supplies in Sunday’s shipment would cover about 15% of the total volume needed in the United States for specialty medical-grade formulas.

“These planes landing right now are going to provide further relief in the coming days,” Deese said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We will continue to work on it during the week.”

Imports will fill in the immediate gaps while buying domestic manufacturers time to ramp up production. The military’s involvement in transporting formula milk reflects the urgency of the shortage, which particularly hits medically vulnerable babies and some older children who may depend on formula milk due to life-threatening food allergies.

The formula shortfall comes amid global supply chain disruptions related to the coronavirus pandemic. But the shortage worsened when Abbott Laboratories recalled products made at a factory in Sturgis, Michigan, after a health alert when four infants fell ill, two of whom later died. The plant was later closed, but the Food and Drug Administration has since reached an agreement with Abbott to reopen the facility.

Abbott CEO Robert Ford said Saturday that the company expects to be able to reopen the facility safely by the first week of June and that it would take six to eight weeks after reopening before the product is not available in stores.

“When we operate our Michigan plant at full capacity, we will more than double our current production of powdered infant formula for the United States,” Ford wrote. “By the end of June, we will be providing more formula to Americans than we were in January before the recall.”

Michael Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Sunday he was “so encouraged” by what US troops had been able to accomplish in two days to address the shortage.

“A C-17 that could fly howitzers into Germany in support of Ukraine turns around and flies 71,000 pounds of baby formula,” Mullen said on ABC News’ This Week.

The formula will be tested by the FDA before distribution, he added.

“Hopefully the FDA tests don’t take too long and we get them out there as quickly as possible,” Mullen said.

Abbott is one of the big four companies responsible for approximately 90% of the infant formula supply in the United States. It is also a major provider of WIC: a food assistance program for women and babies. Caregivers are typically limited to one brand of formula with WIC vouchers, but the House and Senate recently passed legislation allowing participants to purchase any brand available.

The infant formula bill was flown to Seoul for Biden to sign during a trip to Asia that began on Friday, according to a White House official.

Indiana is one of the few states that does not have WIC contracts with Abbott. It has already enabled mothers receiving WIC assistance to purchase other brands.

There have been reports of infants being hospitalized in South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee due to formula shortages. On Sunday, New York Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency over formula shortages.

Carolyn Y. Johnson and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

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