A military cargo plane carrying the first shipment of infant formula, weighing 35 tonnes (77,000 pounds), has landed in Indianapolis as part of the Biden administration’s “Operation Fly Formula” to import the product from Europe and address a critical shortage in the United States.
It is the first of several flights from Europe carrying infant formula, made for children who have allergic reactions to protein and cow milk, expected this weekend to relieve the deepening shortage in the US due to the closure of the nation’s largest domestic manufacturing plant in Michigan in February over safety issues.
The flights were authorised after US President Joe Biden invoked the Defence Production Act.
The secretary of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), who was in Indianapolis to greet the arrival of the first shipment, said this is only going to last for about a week, feeding some 27,000 children in need, Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro, speaking from Washington DC, said.
“This is only about one-third of the total supply to be delivered from Europe into the US. The FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] is also dropping some importation restrictions to make this happen quickly,” she said.
“The Biden administration is hoping that it’s good publicity, showing that they are using everything they can, including the military, to address the acute problem.”
The White House has said 132 pallets of Nestlé Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula were to leave Ramstein Air Base in Germany for the US.
Another 114 pallets of Gerber Good Start Extensive HA formula were expected to arrive in the coming days. Altogether, about 1.5 million 8-ounce bottles of the three formulas, which are hypoallergenic for children with cow’s milk protein allergy, are expected to arrive this week.
‘Some incremental relief’
Indianapolis was chosen because it is a Nestle distribution hub. The formula will be offloaded into FedEx semi tractor-trailers and taken to a Nestle distribution centre about a mile away, where the company will do a standard quality control check before distributing the supplies to hospitals, pharmacies and doctor’s offices, according to an administration official onsite.
US Air Force planes are transporting the initial batch of formula because no commercial flights were available this weekend.
The flight was the first of several to provide “some incremental relief in the coming days” as the government works on a more lasting response to the shortage, Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, said Sunday.
Deese told CNN’s State of the Union news programme that Sunday’s flight brought 15 percent of the specialty medical grade formula needed in the US, and because of various actions by the government, people should see “more formula in stores starting as early as this week”.
Longer term, he said, the US needs more formula providers “so that no individual company has this much control over supply chains”.
Under Operation Fly Formula, the USDA and the US Department of Health and Human Services are authorised to request US Department of Defence support to pick up overseas infant formula that meets US health and safety standards, so it can get to store shelves faster, according to the USDA.
Alfamino is primarily available through hospitals and home health care companies that serve patients at home.
US regulators and manufacturer Abbott Nutrition hope to have Abbott’s Michigan plant reopened next week, but it will take about two months before products are ready for delivery.