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The U.S. just got 70,000 pounds of baby formula airlifted in from Europe to help with the national shortage

May 23, 2022, 4:34 PM UTC

The first shipment of more than 70,000 pounds of baby formula arrived in Indianapolis on a U.S. military aircraft from Germany on Sunday, part of the Biden Administration’s initiative to help boost supply and alleviate the national shortage.

“Just in that plane flight alone, that will cover about 15% of the overall national volume that we need,” said White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese during an appearance on CNN on Sunday. He added that the formula will begin arriving in U.S. stores as early as this week. 

Since March, a baby formula shortage caused by the shuttering of a single factory has left parents and caregivers scrambling to feed their children. It has also prompted retailers to limit the number of cans customers can buy. In the week ending May 15, the out-of-stock rate for baby formula nationwide was 45%, according to Datasembly, a provider of real-time product data for retailers and consumer packaged goods.

In response, the Biden Administration invoked the Defense Production Act last week to take pressure off the multiple supply chains involved in formula production. It also initiated “Operation Fly Formula” to airlift in additional products from abroad, which this shipment was a part of. 

Sunday’s shipment of Nestlé’s Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula was the first of several expected in the coming weeks. An additional military flight carrying more supplies of Nestlé formula will arrive from Germany to Washington Dulles International Airport in the coming days, according to The Washington Post.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who was in Indianapolis Sunday to welcome the arrival of the aircraft, said the shipment that arrived on Sunday is enough to “take care of 9,000 babies and 18,000 toddlers for a week.”

Earlier that day, the White House said a second Operation Fly Formula flight containing 114 pallets of Gerber Good Start Extensive HA formula will arrive “later this week.” The two shipments are enough to fill up to 1.5 million 8-ounce bottles of formula, according to the White House. 

All three formulas the White House has prioritized—the two from Nestlé and one from Gerber—are all hypoallergenic formulas for children who are allergic to cow’s milk. These formulas “serve a critical medical purpose and are in short supply,” the White House said on Sunday. 

The baby formula shortage began in earnest when Abbott Laboratories, the largest supplier of powdered infant formula, voluntarily recalled products manufactured in a Sturgis, Mich. facility, and shut down the plant following reports that four infants fell ill from bacterial infection and two died after consuming formula produced in the plant. The FDA has also been criticized for reacting slowly to potential problems at Abbott, and supply chain issues have exacerbated the shortfall. 

The baby formula market in the U.S. is dominated by just three companies, and the Abbott plant shutdown exposed how fragile manufacturing really is.  On Saturday, Abbott CEO Robert Ford apologized in a column in The Washington Post.

“We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage,” Ford wrote.  

Ford said the company was taking a number of steps to help alleviate the shortage and prevent a shortage this drastic from happening again.

“We are making significant investments to ensure this never happens again,” he wrote.

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