A top White House economic adviser on Sunday said he was hopeful there would be more baby formula on American store shelves this upcoming week, especially after a plane full of the product arrived from an airbase in Germany.
Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, told CNN State of the Union host Dana Bash that the plane carrying 70,000lb of baby formula – enough for half a million bottles – from Ramstein airbase in Germany which landed in Indianapolis on Sunday morning should cover about 15% of the product’s nationwide shortage. About 45% of baby formula products were out of stock across the US last week, according to figures that Bash cited during her interview of Deese, who didn’t dispute them.
“We’re going to see more formula… in stores starting as early as this week,” said Deese, adding that the incoming Nestlé product was “a specialty medical grade formula, the type that we most need in this market”.
When asked how the US ended up needing to fly in baby formula from another country, Deese bluntly blamed the manufacturer Abbott, who apparently spent windfall profits on filling the pockets of investors and neglected to replace failing equipment which likely introduced dangerous bacteria to its infant nutritional products and set the stage for a recall that has wreaked havoc on the nationwide supply, according to financial records and whistleblower documents.
“We had a manufacturer who wasn’t following the rules and that was making a formula that had the risk of making babies sick,” Deese said. “So we have to take action on that front.”
Deese suggested introducing more competition to the baby formula manufacturing industry so that the country’s supply doesn’t depend on just a handful of companies like Abbott.
The country’s stock of baby formula was significantly curtailed after a February recall by Abbott worsened coronavirus pandemic-related supply chain issues among the product’s manufacturers, leaving parents with fewer options on store shelves to nourish their children.
The recall resulted from illnesses and deaths among infants, and it hit poorer families hardest, because Abbott provides formula to about half the infants who receive benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or Wic, which primarily aims to help low-income women and their children.
About half the infants who receive Wic benefits get their formula from Abbott, one of just four companies that produces 90% or so of US baby formula.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials have launched an investigation into reported bacterial infections in four infants who consumed powdered formula produced in Abbott’s facility in Michigan. All four infants were hospitalized, and two died.
Deese said Abbott has indicated it will need about a month to bring their facility back online, “but we’re not going to wait that long”.
Joe Biden last week took the relatively drastic step of invoking the Defense Production Act to speed production of more baby formula supply and authorize its import from abroad. The flight arriving at Indianapolis’s airport on Sunday stemmed from the order, which enabled the US defense department to use commercial aircraft to fly in overseas formula meeting federal standards.
Deese, however, acknowledged Sunday’s flight would only “provide some incremental relief in the coming days”, and he said more are being planned for the coming days.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism