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Some capital region stores ration baby formula sales amid shortage

One- or two-unit limit at some stores; uncertainty about when next shipment will arrive as U.S. problems starts to affect Canada
A display of baby formula. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Some stores in the capital region are temporarily rationing baby formula sales to one or two units per customer amid a shortage in the United States that has started to affect Canada.

Fort Royal Pharmacy owner Vikram Bawa said his stores on Oak Bay Avenue and Hillside Avenue are limiting baby formula purchases to one per customer. Demand has been high the last couple of weeks, he said Friday. “The stock will run out soon and we don’t know when we’ll get any more.”

At Walmart in Langford and Shopper’s Drug Mart on Esquimalt Road it was two per customer. Thrifty Foods on Admirals Road didn’t have a limit, Costco in Langford said it doesn’t have one as yet, and several other pharmacies said they don’t stock baby formula.

Federal authorities acknowledged Thursday that Canada is facing a shortage of formulas for babies with food allergies and some health conditions. Health Canada said supplies of allergy-friendly formulas aren’t meeting demand in some provinces. The statement came amid widespread formula shortages south of the border after the shutdown of a large U.S. manufacturing plant, which also ships hypoallergenic formula to Canada.

Health Canada said there are two types of formula for babies with food allergies: extensively hydrolyzed and amino acid-based.

The shortage of extensively hydrolyzed formulas is straining the already limited supply of amino acid-based products, which are intended for babies at risk of severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. Health Canada said it’s critical that these products be reserved for babies who need them.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act requiring suppliers of key ingredients for baby formulas to make delivery to formula-manufacturers a priority.

The Retail Council of Canada, on May 11, said some baby formula retailers have begun restricting sales in Canada to cope with demand amid a recall of certain Abbott products. A dearth of the Chicago-based manufacturer’s Similac powder formulas has increased pressure on other brands as families turn to alternatives, said national spokeswoman Michelle Wasylyshen.

She said she knew of at least two national retailers that have begun curtailing online availability.

The next day B.C. Liberal MLA Trevor Halford in question period asked the government about the the shortage of baby formula sweeping North America. “Parents are already seeing empty shelves here in B.C.,” said Halford. “Parents want to know what is being done to protect our international supply chain and ensure they can feed their newborn children.”

Halford, who asked exactly what steps are being taken to ensure baby formula is still in stock on B.C. shelves, said later he was disappointed by the non-answer he received.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the issue is a critical one for the health of children in B.C. and that “the government is engaged on this issue, as we have been through the pandemic.”

Dix recalled how special flights have been chartered by the Health Ministry to ensure children received access “to what they need.” Through the pandemic, some of the province’s traditional suppliers, including in the United States, have restricted access to essential items, he said. “It reminds us of the need to build our domestic supplies of vital resources,” said Dix.

The Health Ministry could not supply specifics for what if anything the province is doing about the baby formula shortage.

Health Canada recommended on May 9 that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency temporarily suspend bilingual labelling and nutrient composition requirements to allow infant formula imports from Europe, reducing Canada’s reliance on U.S. suppliers.

— With files from The Canadian Press and the Associated Press

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