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US flight brings tonnes of needed baby formula from Europe

  • 22 May 2022

The cargo plane took off from the US air base at Ramstein, Germany, carrying around 35,000 kg of specialty infant formula –– enough for 500,000 bottles, White House says.

Shelves normally meant for baby formula sit nearly empty at a store in downtown Washington, DC, United States. ( AFP )

A military cargo plane carrying the first shipment of infant formula from Europe to help address a critical shortage in the United States has landed in Indianapolis and the White House said a second flight had been arranged.

"This is an important step, but it is by no means the only step that must take place. We will continue to work as the president has instructed us to look for every opportunity to increase supply," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who greeted the plane on its arrival on Sunday.

"This particular formula is for a very, very small percentage of children. Roughly 17,000 children in the country basically are the beneficiaries of this particular formula," he said.

Pandemic supply-chain issues

A February 17 recall by top baby formula maker Abbott Laboratories and the closing of its manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan during an investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration has created one of the biggest infant formula shortages in recent history for US families.

President Joe Biden's administration is seeking to stock empty shelves with 1.5 million containers of Nestle specialty infant formulas. Biden last week invoked the Cold War-era Defense Production Act to help increase supplies.

The White House said on Sunday a second flight carrying formula would leave from Rammstein Air Force Base in coming days.

Nestle also said more shipments would arrive in the coming days.

Troops used forklifts to unload boxes of the cargo from the plane, which the White House said carried (35,000 kg of specialty infant formula –– enough for 500,000 bottles –– and onto trucks heading to distribution centres.

Abbott, the biggest US supplier of powder infant formula, closed its Michigan plant following reports of bacterial infections in four infants, worsening a shortage among multiple manufacturers that began with pandemic supply-chain issues.

Price gouging

Chief Executive Robert Ford apologised for the shortage on Sunday and promised to fix it, adding the plant would reopen in the first week of June, and it would take six-to-eight weeks for products to reach store shelves.

"We're sorry to every family we've let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage," he wrote in a Washington Post column.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Sunday declared a state of emergency to prevent price gouging.

"This emergency executive order will help us to crack down on any retailer looking to capitalise on this crisis by jacking up prices on this essential good," he said in a statement.

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