US gets 32 tons of baby formula to counter shortage

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A planeload of more than 32 metric tons of baby formula arrived in the US, starting an emergency program to alleviate a national shortage that has left some parents scrounging to feed their children.

More formula will start arriving in stores "as early as this week," Brian Deese, President Joe Biden’s top economic adviser in the White House, said on CNN’s "State of the Union." The plane that landed in Indianapolis on Sunday will address "15% of the overall national volume that we need," he said.

Faced with pressure by both Republicans and Democrats to address the crisis, Biden last week ordered the use of government planes to airlift infant formula to the world’s richest country. He also invoked emergency powers under the Defense Production Act to spur domestic manufacturing.

The US Air Force cargo plane from Ramstein Air Base in Germany delivered 132 pallets of Nestlé Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who met the plane, said the cargo will help infants who need specialized formula.  

Supply-chain snarls that reduced formula availability across the US turned into a full-blown crisis in February when Abbott Laboratories, the largest supplier of powdered infant formula, issued a voluntary recall and closed a plant after four infants fell ill. 

"Our team is working around the clock to get safe formula to everyone who needs it," Biden wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Deese said the shortage highlights how few companies are making baby formula. 

"How did we end up in a market where we have three companies that control 90% of the market?" he said. "It goes back to this question of how we can bring more competition in our economy, have more providers of this formula, so that no individual company has this much control over supply chains."

Congress last week passed a bipartisan bill, the Access to Baby Formula Act, that requires baby formula manufacturers to prepare for future shortfalls and removes barriers to families purchasing formula on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, program. 

Abbott Chief Executive Officer Robert Ford apologized for worsening the shortage in a column for the Washington Post and said the company will make "significant investments" to prevent a recurrence. Available data didn’t find evidence that Abbott products caused the illnesses, he said.

Meanwhile, desperate parents have turned to the internet for solutions and alternatives. Medical experts warn that homemade versions of baby formula come with serious health risks. 

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