More baby formula will be heading to store shelves starting this weekend

On Wednesday, 60 tons of formula landed at Dulles International Airport in Washington from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, the second shipment from Europe under the Biden administration’s Operation Fly Formula. The effort was launched to address the nationwide shortage that was exacerbated by formula maker Abbott Nutrition’s plant closure in February after multiple U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspections revealed “unsanitary conditions “.

Chris Calamari, who heads Abbott’s nutrition division, apologized on Wednesday for his company’s role in the shortage during a hearing before the House Oversight and Investigative Subcommittee on Energy and Energy. trade.

“On behalf of everyone at Abbott, I want to express our extraordinary disappointment with the shortage. We are deeply, deeply sorry,” Calamari said.

Abbott said Tuesday it plans to restart work at its Sturgis, Michigan plant on June 4, with the first batches of the new formula expected to be available to consumers on or around June 20. When the plant is operational, it will be able to increase capacity by 40%, according to Calamari.

On Wednesday, Calamari outlined Abbott’s additional plans to increase supply by bringing more formula on nearly 50 flights a week to 12 airports across the country. Abbott has also converted some of its manufacturing facilities to make infant formula and is working with U.S. Department of Agriculture WIC agencies to ensure program participants receive free infant formula, Calamari said.

“By the end of June, we expect to provide more formula to Americans than in January, before the recall,” he said.

More formulas from foreign-made companies expected to arrive in coming days, says U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy were on hand to greet Wednesday’s dispatch.

“I was heartbroken to hear the stories of parents looking for infant formula. As a mother and grandmother, it’s impossible to hear stories of children in pain and not imagine your own children in the same position,” Biden said. “There’s more to do. We know that. Joe knows that.”

The latest shipment contains the hypoallergenic Nestle Gerber Good Start Extensive HA formula. The company said the formula will be heading to a Nestlé distribution center in Pennsylvania and will be immediately shipped to hospitals, WIC families and retailers nationwide.

Over the past few months, Nestlé said, it has ramped up production and accelerated the way it gets products to market and to hospitals.

Gerber Vice President of Technical Production Scott Fitz told Wednesday’s hearing that his company “works tirelessly to help parents and caregivers get the formula they need.”

“Our factories are operating 24/7 to produce formulas as efficiently as possible while maintaining our high safety standards. We prioritize manufacturing the most in-demand products as well as specialty formulas that have been in critical shortage,” he said. .

Shortage of infant formula puts West Wing in crisis mode

Robert Cleveland, senior vice president of the other major U.S. infant formula maker, Mead Johnson Nutrition, a subsidiary of Reckitt that makes Enfamil and Nutramigen, said his company has increased infant formula offerings. more than 30% compared to that time. Last year. The company also has trucks ready to be loaded as soon as products are finished and has reduced the types of products it manufactures to get formula out faster.

“We take all of these steps while keeping a close eye on quality and safety to ensure that we always meet the near-pharmaceutical grade safety requirements that apply to the production of infant formula. We will not take any shortcuts “Cleveland said.

The USDA announced Wednesday that it will temporarily cover the costs of alternative formula brands, sizes and shapes for low-income families in states that have WIC contracts with manufacturers Reckitt or Gerber. Abbott covers the cost difference in other states.

State agencies contract with one of the three major formula manufacturers to supply products to infants under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as WIC. Generally, people using WIC benefits can only purchase the brand of formula manufactured by the company with which the state has contracted for this purpose. There are also restrictions on the sizes they can purchase.

Families ration formula for children as shortage worsens

According to the USDA, about half of US states and territories have contracts with Abbott, but as the company has had to recall some of its products, it has created increased demand for other brands, and families have also had to hard to find them. .

“Just clarifying that non-Abbott states can also add new brands is a big chunk, which is a position that neither the companies nor the USDA have been able to say before,” Brian said. Dittmeier, Senior Director of Public Policy. with the non-profit WIC National Association. “That really makes a lot more options for those states.”

He said those states don’t necessarily see the greatest need, “but it’s definitely an area where we need more support.”

WIC is the largest purchaser of formula in the United States, more than half of which goes to infants in the program.
The Baby Formula Access Act, which Biden signed on Saturday, gives the government that ability to be more flexible.
Desperate families turn to hospitals as their hunt for formula dries up
“We encourage states and their formula manufacturers to work together to maximize access to infant formula for WIC participants, and the USDA will provide the funding to make this possible,” the Agriculture Secretary said Wednesday. , Tom Vilsack, in a press release.

The FDA said Tuesday it was doing “everything in its power” to ensure there is enough infant formula for parents and caregivers who need it, including discussions with other manufacturers and suppliers on the introduction of other preparations in the United States.

The agency is allowing Kendal Nutricare, a UK-based company, to import some of its infant formula into the US, and 2 million cans will be on US store shelves from June. The government is working with the company to accelerate its efforts to immediately send over 40,000 cans which are now in stock.

Going forward, however, the country will need to take a closer look at why a factory can close and cause such shortages, Dittmeier said. The Abbott factory in Michigan, for example, is the only one of its facilities to produce special formulas such as those given to infants with milk allergies.

“How can we spread this some more?” asked Dittmeier.

“Frankly, a national security issue here has come to light. This is an essential product for the country,” he said. “This exposed a weakness in our critical supply line, and it needs to be fixed quickly.”

CNN’s Kate Bennett, Carma Hassan, Katherine Dillinger and Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.

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