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Nestlé baby formula shipment arrives in Indianapolis

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack greeted the arrival of the first shipment of formula from Switzerland by way of Ramstein Air Base.

PLAINFIELD, Ind. — The first shipment of infant formula from Europe, authorized by President Joe Biden to relieve a deepening U.S. shortage, arrived in Indiana Sunday morning aboard a military aircraft.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Sunday that 78,000 pounds of formula landed aboard the transport just before 11 a.m. ET.

Biden authorized the use of Air Force planes for the effort, dubbed “Operation Fly Formula,” because no commercial flights were available.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Indianapolis Sunday to greet the arrival of the first shipment of formula.

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. 

Credit: Gina Glaros/WTHR
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks to reporters in Indianapolis after a military transport brought baby formula from Europe for U.S. distribution.

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 U.S. 

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. 

The White House said these types of formulas are a priority because they serve a critical medical purpose and are in short supply.

Credit: U.S. Air Force/Airman1st Class Jared Lovett
U.S. Air Force Airmen load a pallet of Nestlé infant formula onto a C-17 Globemaster lll aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, Germany on Sunday May 22, 2022.

Indianapolis was chosen because it is a Nestlé distribution hub. 

The formula was offloaded from the military C-17 into FedEx semi tractor-trailers and taken to the Nestlé distribution center in Plainfield 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.

Credit: AP
Crew members of a C-17 begins to unload a plane load of baby formula at the Indianapolis International Airport in Indianapolis, Sunday, May 22, 2022. The 132 pallets of Nestlé Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula arrived from Ramstein Air Base in Germany (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Nestlé said that over the past few months it has worked “around the clock” to address the formula shortage and help meet demand.

“We have significantly increased the amount of our formulas available to consumers by ramping up production and accelerating general product availability to retailers and online, as well as through hospitals and home health care for those most vulnerable,” the company said in a release.

“At Nestlé, we are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to get parents and caregivers the formula they need so their children can thrive,” it added. “We prioritized these products because they serve a critical medical purpose as they are for children with cow’s milk protein allergies.”

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 U.S. 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.

The baby formula shortage was caused, in part, by the safety-related closure of the country’s largest formula manufacturing plant.  

U.S. regulators and the manufacturer, Abbott Nutrition, hope to have its Michigan plant reopened next week, but it will take about two months before product is ready for delivery. The FDA this week eased importation requirements for baby formula to try to ease the supply crunch, which has left store shelves void of some brands and some retailers rationing supply for parents nervous about feeding their children.

RELATED: FDA head: Baby formula factory could reopen by next week

The Senate approved a bill Thursday aimed at easing the baby formula shortage for families participating in a government assistance program that accounts for about half of all formula purchased in the United States.

The House passed the bill the day before, so it now goes to Biden to be signed into law.

Participants in a program known as WIC get vouchers that are redeemed for specific foods to supplement their diets. The vouchers usually can only be used to purchase one brand of infant formula, which encourages the manufacturer to offer big discounts to secure a state's business.

The bill makes it possible in extenuating circumstances for the Department of Agriculture to waive certain requirements so that WIC participants can purchase whatever brand is available.

"Now, millions of parents will have an easier time finding the baby formula that they need," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said after the bill was passed.

RELATED: Baby formula shortage is impacting Indianapolis Milk Bank

Resources for Parents

In a statement, Gerber said it is "working to ensure essential information is available for those parents and caregivers seeking it through our Gerber Parent Resource Center, website, social media and industry groups."

Gerber has a parents resource center which is available 24/7 for questions and information at 1-800-4-GERBER.

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