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Formula airlift set to begin today

Military transports will bring large shipment from Europe by Compiled Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | May 22, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

A first air shipment of baby formula will be delivered to the U.S. today under an emergency program authorized by President Joe Biden to address a national shortage that has parents struggling to meet the needs of their newborns.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will travel to Indianapolis to greet the arrival of 132 pallets of Nestle Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a statement Saturday.

While manufacturers say the pandemic disrupted their supply chains, an Abbott Laboratories recall of formula in February and the closing of an Abbott plant turned the shortfall into a crisis, prompting Biden on Wednesday to invoke the Defense Production Act to boost supplies.

"These formulas have been prioritized because they serve a critical medical purpose and are in short supply in the United States," the Agriculture Department said. "Additional flights will be announced in the coming days."

The formula shipment on U.S. military aircraft is originating from Zurich, Switzerland, after Biden announced the Operation Fly Formula program to bring imports in from overseas.

Operation Fly Formula, which was launched after Biden authorized the Agriculture Department and the Department of Health and Human Services to request Pentagon-contracted commercial planes to deliver formula from abroad. Military planes will transport the supplies this time, because no commercial aircraft were available, the White House said.

The imports will fill immediate gaps while also buying time for domestic manufacturers to ramp up production. The military's involvement in transporting baby formula reflects the urgency of the shortage, which is particularly hitting medically vulnerable babies and some older children who may rely on formula because of life-threatening food allergies.

The White House said it expects the majority of the flights to be conducted with commercial contract aircraft, though the military will evaluate and assign them depending on the requirements.

The first load means as many as 1.5 million bottles of "safe Nestle infant formula" will be coming to U.S. shelves as soon as possible, Biden said on Twitter on Friday.

All the formula being shipped is hypoallergenic and can be fed to babies intolerant of protein in cow milk. "They serve a critical medical purpose," the White House said.

The formula shortfall comes amid global supply chain disruptions tied to the coronavirus pandemic. But the shortage worsened when Abbott Laboratories recalled products manufactured at a facility in Sturgis, Mich., after a sanitation scare when four infants fell ill. Two of them 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 is one of four major companies that are responsible for about 90% of infant formula supply in the United States. It is also a major supplier to WIC, a food assistance program for women and babies. Caregivers are usually restricted to one brand of baby formula with WIC vouchers, but the House and Senate recently passed legislation allowing participants to buy whatever brand is available.

Indiana, where the initial Operation Fly Formula planes will land, is one of a handful of states that do not have WIC contracts with Abbott. It has already allowed mothers who receive WIC assistance to buy other brands.

Information for this article was contributed by Chris Strohm of Bloomberg News (TNS) and Andrew Jeong and Seung Min Kim of The Washington Post.

Print Headline: Formula airlift set to begin today


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