Calgary mom desperate for solutions to another baby formula shortage
Nearly a year after a continent-wide shortage, some Calgary moms are worried to find that powdered baby formula shelves are getting bare once again.
Heather Oliver has been scouring stores across the city for two months to find her five-month-old son's usual Enfamil A+ powdered formula, with no luck. It's the only formula that doesn't give him stomach issues or rashes, she says.
So she's had to switch him to the ready-made, liquid version of the same formula — at a higher cost. And the price of that has gone up by $10 since January, to $70 for a pack of 18 bottles, she says.
That means she now pays up to $500 a month to feed her infant.
"We should be really concerned about feeding young babies, and they don't have the stock out there to do that, it seems," said Oliver, who has noticed a normal supply of toddler formula in stores.
"We really hope that there is an answer to this because there are vulnerable families out there who need access to formula."
Along the way, Oliver says, she's met many other frustrated and desperate parents who can't find the formula their babies need. Others have taken to social media groups for moms, asking for help to find supply once they can't find it in stores, naming other brands like Similac and Nestlé.
U.S. formula plant still impacting Canada supply
The mothers' concerns come nearly a year after the Abbott Nutrition formula manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Mich., shuttered for months and issued a product recall due to contamination issues, prompting the initial shortage.
It closed after four babies who consumed powdered formula from the plant became ill with bacterial infections. Two of them died.
Abbott produces the majority of formula supply throughout North America. Canada doesn't manufacture formula for Canadians.
Sylvain Charlebois, the director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, says today's shortages still stem from this plant.
"The plant in the U.S. is facing some major, major challenges," said Charlebois.
The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the factory is under criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.
Charlebois says it still isn't operating fully.
"My guess right now is that the Sturgis plant is trying to respond to a demand coming from clients in the U.S. specifically, before they service the Canadian market."
He says parents are likely also back to panic-buying formulas in bulk when they actually find the product they need, especially considering how difficult it can be to switch formulas.
"It's hard to blame parents, but I would certainly try to encourage retailers to discipline the market a little bit," he said, suggesting they limit how much each customer can buy.
Other than switching to other available brands, Charlebois doesn't have many other solutions.
He says Canada could try to revisit its relationship with a formula plant in Kingston, Ont., which solely supplies formula to China. But he didn't sound optimistic.
Health Canada working on issue
According to a statement from Health Canada, there is enough formula supply to feed all Canadian babies, but there are fewer products and formats available.
What's available is likely also more expensive, the agency said, as lower cost options have been out of stock since the initial 2022 shortage.
It also points to a recall of some Nestlé Good Start Soothe batches, issued last week, which could be contributing to the problem.
"Health Canada will continue to work directly with manufacturers and retailers to increase the supply of formulas normally found on the Canadian market and to identify alternate safe and nutritious products that can be imported from other countries."
An email statement from Scott Johnston, press secretary for Health Minister Jason Copping, says Alberta Health suggests consulting with a pharmacist or Health Link about alternative formulas before the baby's supply is significantly depleted.
"Please be assured that Alberta Health continues to work closely with Health Canada, other Canadian jurisdictions, Alberta Health Services and community pharmacies to monitor and address this situation," said Johnston.