Operation Fly Formula: Australian goat milk to replenish baby formula

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May 28 (UPI) — An Australian producer of goat milk formula, along with other varieties, will ship infant formula to the United States to address its shortage, the U.S. government has announced.

The company, Bubs Australia, is expected to ship at least 1.25 million cans of several varieties of its infant formula to the United States, the Food and Drug Administration announced Friday. Bubs is Australian slang for babies.

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The varieties include “easy-digest” goat’s milk, organic grass-fed cows milk and specialty formulas such as Bubs Supreme A2 beta-casein protein, which will be used for at least 27.5 million full-size, 8-ounce bottles of formula. Some product is currently in stock, and some will be produced in coming weeks and months, according to the FDA’s statement.

“We continue to work around the clock with our government partners and industry to ensure that there’s adequate infant formula wherever and whenever parents and caregivers need it,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in the statement. “Steps like the one the agency is taking today means more infant formula will be available to parents and caregivers in the weeks and months ahead. We will not rest until our shelves are replete with safe and nutritious infant formula.”

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The move is a part of Operation Fly Formula, which the Biden administration approved to speed up the import of infant formula, so that it could get to stores as soon as possible.

Previously, more than 70,000 pounds of infant formula originating from Zurich, Switzerland, was trucked to Germany, where it was loaded on a C-17 cargo plane and flown to Indiana. Another cargo plane with 1 million 8-ounce bottles also recently arrived in Virginia, where the hypoallergenic formula was shipped by FedEx to a distribution facility in Pennsylvania.

For the week ending May 15, store shelves nationwide were 78.52% full, down from 79.15% the prior week, and in states such as Kansas, Arkansas and Minnesota, stocking levels are 10% lower than that, according to data research firm IRI, The Washington Post reported.

The FDA statement on Friday noted that the agency has recently increased flexibilities to address the nationwide baby formula shortage.

While the United States normally produces 98% of the infant formula it consumes, with the primary source of imports coming from Mexico, Ireland and Netherlands, the agency outlined a process earlier this month to expand global imports to the country due to the shortage.

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A widespread recall of baby formula products in February from the Michigan plant of the largest U.S. infant formula manufacturer, Abbott Nutrition, amid reports of illnesses in babies, sparked the formula shortage, which has been fueled by global supply chain issues.

Earlier this week, Califf told a congressional panel that the FDA didn’t act fast enough when it became clear there was a contamination problem at Abbott’s Sturgis, Mich., formula plant, adding that the FDA expressed its “deepest empathy” for parents.

Christopher Calamari, Abbott’s North American president of nutrition, told the committee that Abbott plans to restart production at the Michigan plan in June, but getting getting formula back on store shelves will take several weeks.

Calamari added that the company was deeply sorry for the formula shortage and committed to seeing that it never happens again.

The Biden administration first invoked the Defense Production Act first on May 18 to address the infant formula shortage by speeding up domestic production and loosening restrictions on foreign brands.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra invoked the DPA for a second time Sunday to help Abbott Nutrition access raw materials needed for manufacturing at full capacity and help consumer goods company Reckitt access single-use products such as filters.

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On Friday, Becerra invoked the DPA for a third time to ensure Cargill, which makes essential corn byproducts, sweeteners and oils for infant formulas, can deliver its raw materials.

Last week, President Joe Biden signed the Access to Baby Formula Act, which waives certain requirements to allow low-income families to purchase infant formula with benefits under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

The Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, which provides $28 million in emergency supplemental funding to address the shortage was passed in the House, securing 12 Republicans to jump the aisle for the 231-192 vote, but is still pending Senate approval.

Doctors have warned parents against watering down formula to stretch out what they have.