INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A military plane carrying enough specialty infant formula for more than half a million baby bottles arrived Sunday in Indianapolis, the first of several flights expected from Europe aimed at relieving a shortage that has sent parents scrambling to find enough to feed their children.
President Joe Biden authorized the use of Air Force planes for the effort, dubbed “Operation Fly Formula,” because no commercial flights were available.
The formula weighed 78,000 pounds (35,380 kilograms), White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden flew from South Korea to Japan.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Indianapolis to greet the arrival of the first shipment.
The flights are intended 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” 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.”
The Biden administration has struggled to address the nationwide shortage of formula, particularly hypoallergenic varieties. The crisis follows the closure of the nation’s largest domestic manufacturing plant in Michigan in February due to safety issues.
The White House has said 132 pallets of Nestle Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula was 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 allergies, are expected to arrive this week.
Indianapolis was chosen because it is a Nestle distribution hub. The formula will be offloaded into FedEx semitractor-trailers and taken to a Nestle distribution center 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 on site.
Nestle said that over the past few months it has worked “around the clock” to address the formula shortage and help meet demand.
Under “Operation Fly Formula,” the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services are authorized to request Department of Defense 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.