By Jarrett Renshaw
(Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden will meet with major infant formula manufacturers on Wednesday as his administration presses ahead with efforts to boost imported supplies to help ease a nationwide shortage.
The latest effort includes an announcement on Wednesday that United Airlines has agreed to transport U.K.-made Kendamil formula free of charge from Heathrow Airport in London to multiple airports across the United States over a three-week period.
This first shipment, which includes Kendamil Classic and Kendamil Organic formula, will be available at Target stores across the country in the coming weeks.
Multiple global suppliers are seeking U.S. approval to ship critical baby formula as Biden’s administration accelerates what it has dubbed “Operation Fly Formula” to help fill store shelves.
U.S. parents have struggled to find baby formula in recent months as supplies dwindled after a February recall of some formulas by one of the nation’s main manufacturers, Abbott Laboratories, coupled with other pandemic-related supply chain issues.
The Biden administration has relaxed its import policy and invoked the Defense Production Act to help increase available U.S. supplies, which is still expected to take weeks. It has also said it could use federal resources to help transport supplies to retailers.
Two million cans of formula have been sent from the U.K., and Australian manufacturers are also preparing to send in more product.
The companies attending the 2:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) virtual meeting to provide an update include ByHeart, Bubs Australia, Reckitt Benckiser Group, Perrigo Company and Nestle SA’s Gerber, the White House said.
Many U.S. parents rely on baby formula. Fewer than half the babies born in the United States were exclusively breast-fed through their first three months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2020 Breastfeeding Report Card.
U.S. lawmakers have criticized the Food and Drug Administration for not acting promptly to address the problems that caused the recall at Abbott’s Michigan plant, which is set to reopen June 4.
The agency has said the company, which has the largest U.S. market share for infant formula, did not have a contingency plan to produce its specialty formulas that serve as the only source of nutrition for thousands of babies with metabolic disorders.
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Additional writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Leslie Adler, Chizu Nomiyama and Aurora Ellis)