US gets baby formula shipment from Europe

Empty shelves in the US
A recall by a top maker has created one of the biggest infant formula shortages in the US. -EPA

A military cargo plane carrying the first shipment of infant formula from Europe to help address a critical shortage in the United States landed in Indianapolis on Sunday.

The White House said a second flight had been arranged.

A February 17 recall by top baby formula maker Abbott Laboratories and the closing of its manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan during an investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration has created one of the biggest infant formula shortages in recent history for US families.

"This is an important step, but it is by no means the only step that must take place. We will continue to work as the president has instructed us to look for every opportunity to increase supply," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who greeted the plane on its arrival.

"Roughly 17,000 children in the country basically are the beneficiaries of this particular formula," he said.

President Joe Biden's administration is seeking to stock empty shelves with 1.5 million containers of Nestle specialty infant formulas. 

Biden last week invoked the Cold War-era Defense Production Act to help increase supplies.

Nestle also said more shipments would arrive in the coming days.

Troops used forklifts to unload boxes of the cargo from the plane, which the White House said carried 35,000 kg of specialty infant formula - enough for 500,000 bottles - and onto trucks heading to distribution centres.

Abbott, the biggest U.S. supplier of powder infant formula, closed its Michigan plant following reports of bacterial infections in four infants, worsening a shortage among multiple manufacturers that began with pandemic supply-chain issues.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Sunday declared a state of emergency to prevent price gouging.

"This emergency executive order will help us to crack down on any retailer looking to capitalise on this crisis by jacking up prices on this essential good," he said in a statement.