Formula flown in from Europe to Indy to help ease shortage

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INDIANAPOLIS — Since February, Amanda Foster-Moudy has had an increasingly difficult time finding a formula for her 8-month-old Leo.

She has joined online groups where mothers share tips and photos on where to find precious nutrition for their babies and share excess produce. Sometimes, she says, her husband Dave Moudy spent two to three hours driving to different stores, finding empty shelves.

“He’s my runner,” she said. “If he can’t find it, he goes somewhere else. Then another place, then another place.

On Sunday, the Moudys and young Leo watched in delight as a C-17 military plane with a belly full of European-produced formula land at Indianapolis International Airport – the first cargo to hit the United States as part of President Joe Biden’s recently announced Operation Fly Formula Initiative.

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Importing preparations from Europe would typically take around two weeks as part of the normal trade process, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, speaking at the airport as the shipment was unloaded and packed onto FedEx trucks which delivered it to a Nestlé distribution plant in Plainfield. only a few kilometers away.

But last week, Biden announced a special protocol to speed up the process to ease the shortage.

“The reason we’re doing this is obviously the critical need that’s out there,” Vilsack said. “We’ll be getting here in a few days, and a matter of days means a lot to worried mums and dads.”

The C-17 that landed in Indianapolis on Sunday contained 132 pallets of formula specially formulated for infants and toddlers with cow’s milk allergies. That equates to about 78,000 pounds of formula, enough to feed 9,000 babies and 18,000 toddlers for a week.

The formula was made at Nestlé’s factory in Zurich and trucked to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where a crew who had just completed an aid delivery to Ukraine took it to the United States.

The formula could benefit infants like 7-month-old Ensley Gendig, who has a dairy and soy allergy that makes finding the right formula difficult for parents Megan and Steven.

Ensley had a mix of breastmilk and formula, but keeping formula on hand wasn’t easy for her parents. The two members of the Bargersville couple travel to central Indiana for work and are looking for a formula in the area.

“It means so much not only to our little one, but also to so many others who really rely on it to help provide meals for their children,” Megan Gendig said.

Steven Gendig, of Bargersville, holds his daughter, Ensley, while waiting for a shipment of formula milk to arrive at the airport.  The arrival of the first shipment of infant formula brought to the United States as part of Operation Fly Formula in response to the infant formula shortage caused by the voluntary recall of Abbott Nutrition has arrived at the international airport of Indianapolis, Sunday, May 22, 2022, on an Air Force C-17.

Some of the cases would be ready for distribution within days, Nestlé officials said. The others are still awaiting the results of the standard quality tests carried out in Switzerland. These will be distributed as soon as the results are known.

Another shipment of 112 pallets of a wider range of infant formula from Europe is expected to arrive in the Washington, DC area in the coming days, Vilsack said. The Indianapolis expedition will go to hospitals and health clinics across the country.

The formula that arrived Sunday will help some of those hardest hit by the formula shortage, said Dr. Emily Webber, pediatrician and director of medical information at Riley Hospital for Children. About 70,000 children in the United States are allergic to cow’s milk, Vilsack said.

“According to the special formulas and for the most intensely children who need these formulas, there are no substitutions,” Webber said. “There are no shortcuts.”

How the Formula Crisis Began

The crisis had been brewing since February, when an Abbott factory in Sturgis, Michigan, closed after four infants who drank formula produced there developed bacterial infections. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration and Abbott reached an agreement to reopen the plant.

Abbott Nutrition officials said that it could take up to two weeks to open the factory, and then another six to eight weeks before the product hits store shelves.

To help Abbott ramp up production, Biden last week triggered the Defense Production Act, which will give the factory priority for needed supplies, including formula ingredients, container lids and paper for labeling.

Additionally, the government is considering getting additional formula from other countries like Australia, Vilsack said. Although the United States imports a small amount of infant formula from Mexico, the Netherlands and Ireland, approximately 98% of the product consumed here is produced here.

“Certainly in the next 30 days we’re going to start to see a decrease in that,” Vilsack said. “Over the next few weeks we should see an ever-increasing supply.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, left, greets the crew members of an Air Force C-17 before they prepare to unload infant formula after arriving from Air Force Base Ramstein in Germany.  The arrival of the first shipment of infant formula brought to the United States as part of Operation Fly Formula in response to the infant formula shortage caused by the voluntary recall of Abbott Nutrition has arrived at the international airport of Indianapolis, Sunday, May 22, 2022, on an Air Force C-17.

The crisis has revealed key lessons, Vilsack said.

When the Abbott plant closed in February, no one knew how long it would take to fix the problem. The shutdown had a huge impact on the market as only a few companies manufacture infant formula.

While infant formula is a unique case because the recipe for making it can be complicated with specific ingredients, this episode also contains a lesson for other types of products, Vilsack said.

“The challenge for those of us in government is to find ways to learn from this experience, to develop greater resilience in the supply chain and greater flexibility in the supply chain,” said- he declared. “We’ve been so focused on efficiency that we’ve forgotten the lesson of resilience and I think we’ve learned in a number of areas the need for extra capacity.”

Contact IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at [email protected] Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter: @srudavsky.

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