Hooray! 78,000 Pounds Of Baby Formula Arrives In US, With More On The Way

economics
Hooray! 78,000 Pounds Of Baby Formula Arrives In US, With More On The Way

File:Empty milk bottle.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Here's some actual good news! As part of “Operation Fly Formula” (which sounds to me like it's formula for flies, but okay), an Air Force plane landed in Indianapolis carrying 78,000 pounds of baby formula from Europe, enough to fill half a million baby bottles. It's the first of several deliveries expected over the coming days in hopes of giving parents across the country some much needed relief during the shortage.

But the relief is not stopping there. The White House also announced on Sunday two Defense Production Act authorizations meant to kick formula production into high gear.



The manufacturer Abbott Nutrition can now receive priority orders of raw materials like sugar and corn syrup for infant formula, which the White House said will allow the manufacturer to increase production quickly by one-third. Reckitt, owner of Mead-Johnson, can now receive priority orders of consumables like filters and other single-use products necessary to generate certain oils needed to produce infant formula, the White House said, which will allow Reckitt facilities to operate at maximum capacity. [...]

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 AP also reports that "Indianapolis was chosen because it is a Nestle distribution hub."

I'm sure I'm not the only one with some not so great feelings about Nestle and baby formula, but this really is an emergency and we'll take what we can get. Whatever gets safe baby formula into the mouths of babes.

Also on Sunday, President Joe Biden signed into law the Access to Baby Formula Act, which according to Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell's press release would allow the "authority to waive certain requirements so that vulnerable families can continue purchasing safe infant formula with their WIC benefits during extenuating circumstances, such as a public health emergency or supply chain disruption. The bill will also ensure that WIC participants are better protected during a product recall."

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow added:

“This law helps parents get their babies the formula they need by making sure there is never a delay in getting help out the door; and it will hold baby formula manufacturers accountable if they want to do business with the USDA,” said co-sponsor Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). “I’m proud of my colleagues for coming together so quickly to take action addressing this emergency.”

That being said, we really need more suppliers of baby formula, if only so that one production facility being shut down for health and safety reasons doesn't mean babies across the country starve. The Abbott plant that was forced to close due to health hazards is working with regulators to get back up and running by next week, although it will likely take it about two months to get formula back on shelves. This is a bad system. Abbott claims there's no way to truly prove the four babies who got bacterial infections after using their product actually got it from their product and not something else, but even if that were true, it is always possible for something else to go wrong, in which case we'd be in the same position.

But thankfully, some Democratic lawmakers are working to change things.

“When something goes wrong, like it has here, you then have a major, serious crisis,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who released a scathing 34-page whistleblower report from a former Abbott employee detailing safety and cleanliness issues at the Sturgis plant. She argued that the industry should be broken up and efforts should be made to promote competition to avoid future shortages.

Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, urged the Federal Trade Commission last week to conduct a broad study of the infant formula industry and whether market consolidation has led to the dire shortages.

Monopolies are bad, and not just because they are unfair or unethical or because they inevitably result in the vast majority of the country's wealth being concentrated among a few very rich people. They're also bad because in some cases, like this one is showing us, they're literally dangerous. There are only four companies distributing baby formula in the U.S., and if something goes wrong with one of them, particularly the one (Abbott) producing 48 percent of the national supply, people are screwed.

Still, things are being handled, baby formula is getting out to the people, and hopefully this will result in some meaningful change so this doesn't happen again.

[AP / New York Times / Debbie Stabenow website]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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