Baby formula shortages in the United States caused by a major recall and the closing of a manufacturing facility are not likely to spill into Canada, the Retail Council of Canada says.
The shortages have worried parents in the United States, prompting discussions in the U.S House of Representatives. But in Canada, a combination of strong private labels and increased imports means Canadians should be protected from the problem, the council said.
Spokesperson Michelle Wasylyshen said there has been a global shortage of some raw ingredients that go into baby formula, but the situation has grown worse with the closing of a production facility in the United States.
The facility in Sturgis, Mich., owned by baby formula maker Abbott Laboratories, was shut down in February after the company recalled several of its powdered infant formula products due to possible contamination with Cronobacter sakazakii and salmonella. Currently under investigation by U.S. authorities, the products were sold in Canada and the United States.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said five infants were reported to have become ill and were hospitalized after drinking formula, and Cronobacter may have contributed to death in two of those patients.
In a statement on its website on Friday, Abbott said there is no evidence linking the formula to the infant illnesses. Pending FDA approval, the production facility could be up and running within two weeks, with products on shelves within six to eight weeks, the statement said. But in the meantime, retailers have to make do with what they can source elsewhere.
Canadian retailers are less affected because their private label brands often have multiple manufacturing sources, Ms. Wasylyshen said. Canada’s in-house brands source from major manufacturers like Abbott, but also from competitors.
“A major recall from a major label has a diffused impact in Canada than what we would see in the U.S.,” she said.
Specialized formulas for babies have been particularly affected by the plant’s closing, Ms. Wasylyshen said.
A Simon Fraser University business professor says there’s no immediate, widespread shortage in Canada, but panic buying could change that.
”The anticipation of having a shortage may create a shortage, even if there isn’t one,” Feyza Sahinyazan said.
Dr. Sahinyazan said concerned parents can consult their pediatricians about potential substitutes and try different brands.
Canada has also increased its imports of baby formula from other parts of the world.
Health Canada is recommending that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency temporarily relax its labelling and composition requirements for a list of 19 products that aren’t regularly sold in Canada. This was done to help prevent and mitigate shortages and to ensure a safe supply of these products, a Health Canada statement said.
The products on the list are manufactured in the United States, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Germany, and have been approved or allowed to be sold in other jurisdictions that have similar quality and manufacturing standards to Canada’s.
These products are not usually found on Canadian shelves due to English and French labelling requirements, or the presence of certain additives and other ingredients, Ms. Wasylyshen said.
Exceptions like these have happened throughout the pandemic to prevent shortages, Ms. Wasylyshen said, noting that the most recent was during last year’s B.C. floods.
“We had a couple of products that were temporarily allowed to be sold in shelves within B.C. just because of the catastrophic nature of the situation at the time,” she said.
The interim policy expires on June 30.
The United States, which has seen severe shortages, is also looking into increasing imports, President Joe Biden said this week.
Several major retailers in Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment on how the shortage was affecting them.
In a statement, Walmart Canada said industry-wide supply challenges have been going on for years. While the most recent brand recall caused some reduced inventory, the retail giant said its stores have a strong supply of baby formula available.
Retailers across Canada are still selling formula online.
With a report from Xiao Xu
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