Canadian parents still struggling to find consistent supply of baby formulas

A year after a baby formula shortage began impacting families in Canada, store shelves remain relatively bare. Erica Natividad with why supply is still limited and how Health Canada is addressing the issue.

By Erica Natividad

A little over a year after the closure of a U.S. baby formula plant triggered a widespread shortage in North America, Canadian parents are still struggling to find a steady supply of certain products.

“I find a disconnect between perhaps what the Government of Canada is saying and my experience in the stores,” said Toronto mother Christina Marrella.

Marella says she typically buys Nestle’s Good Start concentrated liquid formula for her 8-month-old son online. A few weeks ago, she noticed every website displayed as out of stock.

When her supply at home began to dwindle last week, she visited several pharmacies and big box retailers only to find their shelves were bare. Some stores limited baby formula purchases to two per customer.

Marrella called Nestle’s customer service line. She said they could not definitively answer when new stock would arrive. A representative even suggested she switch brands.

“I’m a bit concerned about that because I know with these milk products, changing brands could affect their digestive system,” she explained.

“They told me that I could switch forms so I could go into the powder, but I wasn’t comfortable with that because I felt like it didn’t sit well with my baby. And then their final response was to call your general practitioner and see what they have to say. So it’s just very unsettling.”

As a temporary measure, the new mom has switched to the ready-made version of the same product for about double the price.

Issues stem from Abbott infant formula plant

Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, said much of the problem has to do with ongoing issues at the Abbott infant formula plant in the U.S. Its closure over sanitation problems last year sparked the original shortage. The U.S. Department of Justice began investigating the plant’s operations in January.

“They don’t seem to be in compliance with FDA rules, so there’s lots and lots of issues there,” he explained. “It supplies many of the products we consume in North America, so we’re expecting things to be tight for quite some time.”

With Abbott products like Similac off store shelves, alternate brands are having difficulty keeping up with a sudden rise in demand. CityNews reached out to Nestle, who clarified that Perrigo now owns the rights to the Good Start infant formula brand.

RELATED: Nestlé infant formula recalled for potential bacteria contamination

“We have been working closely with Health Canada and our factories to deliver a consistent supply of Good Start formulas across the Canadian marketplace,” said spokesperson Brad Joseph in a statement.

“Good Start formulas are experiencing intermittent out of stocks at retailers. We understand this is a challenging time, and anyone with questions or concerns is encouraged to speak to their Health Care Professional.”

Meanwhile, Health Canada tells CityNews it expects the situation to stabilize “over the next few months,” adding in a statement, “We understand that this is a difficult situation for families already facing rising costs of living, or whose infants are having difficulty adjusting to a new product, and we are working tirelessly to improve supply.”

The agency says it has already authorized the temporary sale of over 70 products from other countries to help ease the effects of the shortage and is working with manufacturers to increase shipments of products generally found on the Canadian market.

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