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Don't feed babies homemade formula, Health Canada warns amid shortage

Health Canada has warned parents against feeding their children homemade baby formula amid a shortage of certain products in the country.

The supply of formula in Canada has been affected by the closure of a major manufacturing plant in Michigan run by Abbott Laboratories.

The shortage is particularly affecting parents whose babies have food allergies or certain medical conditions.

Some stores have already begun to impose purchasing limits on certain baby formula products.

“This can be a distressing situation for parents and Health Canada is doing everything it can to mitigate the situation to provide parents with safe and healthy alternatives,” the agency said, explaining that it has officially recommended an easing of regulations to allow formula to be imported from the likes of the UK and Ireland.

<who> Photo credit: 123RF

Health Canada said two types of formula are given to babies with food allergies: extensively hydrolyzed infant formulas and amino acid-based formulas.

In some parts of Canada, demand for these products is outstripping supply.

“The shortage of extensively hydrolyzed formulations is putting additional pressure on the limited supply of amino-acid based formulas,” Health Canada explained.

“Amino acid-based formulas are critical for babies who are at risk of very serious allergic (anaphylactic) reactions. It is therefore critical that consumption of these products be facilitated by doctors only to babies who require them.”

The agency added that it will continue to monitor the situation and stressed that it is working with manufacturers to import formula “where possible.”

In the meantime, Health Canada offered the following advice to parents:

  • Speak to a health care professional, such as your doctor or pharmacist, to discuss your baby’s needs and possible alternative products and how to transition them into your infant’s diet.

  • If you are combining bottle-feeding and breastfeeding, try to maintain your breastmilk supply and consult your health care professional if you need advice on an allergen free diet.

  • Do not attempt to make homemade infant formula as it can put your baby’s health at risk. Commercial infant formula contains many important nutrients that cannot be created at home.

  • Do not use other substitutes such as cow’s milk, goat’s milk, evaporated milk, soy or rice beverages as they are not nutritionally complete.

  • Do not acquire infant formula or breastmilk from unknown sources, such as online groups or third parties.

  • When purchasing infant formula, reserve specialty infant formulas for those with medical conditions requiring these ones and avoid buying large amounts.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, who heads the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, said the closure of the Abbott plant has had such a profound effect on supplies in the US and Canada because there are so few producers of baby formula.

He said 98 per cent of the formula consumed in the US is manufactured by just three companies.

“The baby formula market is not that profitable since birth rates have been dropping in the US,” Dr. Charlebois explained.

“When a market is shrinking, getting new players is challenging.”

Dr. Charlebois has also drawn attention to the peculiar situation of the Canada Royal Milk baby formula plant in Kingston, Ontario.

“It is the largest baby formula plant in Canada by far,” he explained.

“However, all its products are shipped back to China – all of them. The plant itself uses Canadian cow and goat milk. For any experts who understand how the Canadian dairy sector works, this is troubling.”

He added: “For Canadian consumers, having access to Canadian made baby formula would also be reassuring, but dairy farmers just don’t think about the market that way. Money is money, and who is being fed is totally secondary.

“For Canada, this is truly our own baby formula problem.”

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