A cargo plane carrying 55 tons of Nestlé's infant formula — enough for 1.65 million 8-ounce baby bottles — landed at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday, the latest flight in a federally arranged airlift to ease the months-long formula shortage that has left both parents and the Biden administration scrambling.
The Kalitta Air flight from the Netherlands was the 37th since President Joe Biden announced Operation Fly Formula and several other steps to address the crisis on May 18. At the time, shelves in many stores were bare and parents were stressed-out and desperate. The unexpected scarcity was fueling intense criticism in Congress.
In all, enough formula to fill 4.3 million baby bottles has arrived in the United States from countries where the manufacturing meets American health and safety standards, the federal Department of Health and Human Services said.
But the shortage continues.
In Bergen County, powdered formulas are in very limited supply, said Jessica Palaia, administrator of the Facebook page Bergen County Formula Exchange, with more than 1,300 members. Liquid, ready-to-use formula is easier to find, she said. Hardest of all are specialized formulas for children with metabolic issues.
"I'm sill getting more and more people joining the group," said Palaia, a Pompton Lakes mother of two and Waldwick school district teacher. Participants scan the Facebook page for tips and post screenshots when they find store shelves stocked with formula. They also give away supplies they don't need.
While the situation is better than when she founded the group seven weeks ago, Palaia said, it's "still not where it needs to be."
The shortage is driven in part by the closure of one of the largest manufacturing plants in the United States — owned by Abbott Nutrition in Sturgis, Michigan — after a voluntary recall of some of its products. Pre-existing pandemic-related supply chain issues and the concentration of the market among three main companies, resulting in a lack of competition, also contributed.
Story continues below photo gallery
The shortage has hit poor families hardest, because Abbott was the exclusive supplier of formula for the government’s supplemental nutrition program, known as WIC (Women Infants and Children), in more than half the states. And babies with metabolic conditions that require specialized formulas sometimes have had to go to the hospital for feedings.
Store shelves were stocked at lower levels in mid-June than they had been in May, when the crisis sparked a Congressional hearing. The out-of-stock rate was 23.5% during the week ending June 12, according to published reports that cited IRI Research, compared with 21% in May.
Also in mid-June, floods from thunderstorms forced the Michigan baby formula plant to close again, less than two weeks after it had reopened. After that “unfortunate setback,” the federal Food and Drug Administration said, the agency would return to the plant "and work closely with Abbott so that the Sturgis facility can restart producing safe and quality formula products as quickly as possible.”
Friday’s cargo shipment to Newark contained Nestlé NAN SupremePro 2, a standard formula suitable for use by babies who have no special health or dietary needs, a Nestlé spokesperson said. While it is a new product to the United States, it is similar to Gerber Good Start GentlePro formulas and suitable for babies aged 6 to 12 months old.
From Newark’s cargo terminal, the 138,000 cans of formula will be trucked to a distribution center in Pennsylvania and then sold on the shopping websites Gerber.com, Walmart.com, Kroger.com and Amazon.com, the spokesperson said. Online retail enables the formula to be available to buyers in every state and speeds its distribution.
In addition to the airlift of formula from Europe, Australia and Singapore, Biden invoked the Defense Production Act in May to get key formula ingredients to manufacturers more quickly. He eased import restrictions on prepared formula, which allowed the importation of formula from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Germany and Mexico.
And he ordered state feeding programs for poor women and children to adopt a flexible approach, rather than limiting the choice of subsidized formula to a single company for the entire state.
“The FDA is working night and day to ensure that parents and caregivers can readily find safe and nutritious formula products for any child who needs it,” the FDA Commissioner, Dr. Robert Califf, said in a statement on June 22. “I have personally spoken with infant formula manufacturers over the past several weeks and all have significantly increased their production efforts, which is resulting in more supply that will be available on store shelves moving forward.”
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Baby formula shortage eased with European shipment arriving at Newark