US to airlift baby formula from Britain

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‘Operation Fly Formula’ aims to tackle the national shortage crisis

The US government has allowed powdered infant milk imports from the UK, the Food and Drug Administration announced in a statement on Tuesday, as the country is grappling with a severe shortage.

British family-owned company Kendal Nutricare will deliver around 2 million cans of Kendamil brand formula to the US by June, the FDA said. According to The Guardian newspaper, 100 truckloads of powdered milk – which was used by the royal family to wean Prince Louis of Cambridge – will be sent.

“We continue to do everything in our power as part of the all-of-government efforts to ensure there’s adequate infant formula available wherever and whenever parents and caregivers need it,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf. Roughly 40% of baby formula products are out of stock nationwide, data shows.

Last week, the White House eased import requirements and announced an effort to transport baby milk from abroad dubbed ‘Operation Fly Formula’. The US normally produces 98% of the infant formula it consumes, with imports mainly coming from Mexico, Ireland and the Netherlands. Companies seeking to enter the US market face formidable hurdles, such as rigorous research and manufacturing standards imposed by the FDA.

On Sunday, a military plane carrying enough powdered milk to fill half a million baby bottles arrived in the US from Germany. The delivery of the Nestle-made formula is expected to cover about 15% of the nationwide shortage.

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Similac baby formulas are seen at empty baby formula section shelves at a Target store due to shortage in the availability of baby food on May 17, 2022, in New Jersey, United States. © Tayfun Coskun / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
US baby formula shortage is a symptom of a broken system

The baby formula shortage began to take hold in the US last year amid supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. However, the situation deteriorated in February when Abbott Laboratories, one of the nation’s main manufacturers, recalled some of its products and shut down a manufacturing plant after four babies who had been fed formula made at the facility contracted a rare bacterial infection. Two of them later died.

Abbott said last week that after investigations by the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and by the company itself, no conclusive evidence was found to link its formulas to those incidents. The plant is now set to reopen in early June.

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