US flight brings tonnes of baby formula from Germany

Scarcity of medical-grade baby formula has created grave problems for thousands of parents

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A US military plane bringing several tonnes of much-needed baby formula from Germany has landed at an airport in Indiana as authorities scramble to address a critical shortage.

Scarcity of medical-grade baby formula caused by production problems and supply-chain issues has created grave problems for thousands of parents whose infants rely on it, sending them on frantic searches for the product.

The cargo plane took off from the US airbase at Ramstein, Germany, carrying more than 30,000 kilograms of powdered formula, the White House said on Sunday.

President Joe Biden posted about the flight on Twitter from Japan, where he is on a five-day tour of Asia.

“Our team is working around the clock to get safe formula to everyone who needs it,” he said

Mr Biden tweeted an update later on Sunday, saying more formula was on its way to the US via a second shipment.

“We have secured a second flight to transport Nestle speciality infant formula to Pennsylvania,” the president wrote.

“The flight and trucking will take place in the coming days and I will continue to keep you updated.”

The first shipment will cover about 15 per cent of the immediate need, presidential economics adviser Brian Deese said on CNN.

He added there are “more flights in train that will be coming in early this week” as part of what the administration has called “Operation Fly Formula”.

The formula was flown to Indiana because it is a hub for Nestle, a major domestic producer. It will be quality-tested at a nearby lab before being distributed.

The formula shortage has been developing for months, aggravated not only by supply-chain issues linked to the Covid-19 pandemic but by the closing of the largest US formula-making plant, a Michigan factory owned by Abbott Laboratories, amid concerns that contamination may have led to the deaths of two infants.

“We had a manufacturer that wasn't following the rules, and that was making formula that had the risk of making babies sick,” Mr Deese said. “So we have to take action.”

Another problem, he said, was that US formula production had become concentrated among only three companies.

“We're going to have to work” on ways to increase competition, he said.

Abbott's chief executive, Robert Ford, apologised to consumers in a Washington Post op-ed on Sunday, saying: “We're sorry to every family we've let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation's baby formula shortage.”

Mr Deese was asked separately about growing concerns that the US economy — hit by high inflation, supply chain troubles and the war in Ukraine — may be headed towards a recession.

“Well, there are always risks,” he said.

“But there's also no doubt that the United States is in a better position than any other major country around the world to address inflation without giving up all the economic gains that we have had.”

The US inflation rate hit a 40-year high of 8.5 per cent in March, but slowed slightly in April to 8.3 per cent.

Updated: May 23, 2022, 8:40 PM