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Health Canada warns of formula shortage for babies with food allergies

Before making decisions to switch or substitute formula, parents should speak to their healthcare professional.
2022-05-13 Baby Formula Stock Pexels Sarah Chai
Stock image.

The closure of a large infant formula manufacturing plant in the United States has prompted Health Canada to issue an advisory to parents with children with food allergies experiencing shortages north of the border.

According to Health Canada, the closure of Abbott Laboratories has resulted in a global shortage of infant formula, the health angency said in its advisory issued on Thursday, May 19.

Canada, in particular, is experiencing a shortage of infant formulas designed for babies with food allergies and certain medical conditions.

As Health Canada explains, there are two types of formulas for babies with food allergies: extensively hydrolyzed infant formulas and amino acid-based formulas.

In certain provinces, the supply of these products is not meeting the demand.

Because of this issue, Health Canada is urging parents to speak with their healthcare professional to discuss their baby’s needs and possible alternative products and how to transition them into their infant’s diet.

“If you are combining bottle-feeding and breastfeeding, try to maintain your breast milk supply and consult your health care professional if you need advice on an allergen-free diet,” Health Canada explained. “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.”

The agency is also telling parents not to use other substitutes such as cow’s milk, goat’s milk, evaporated milk, soy or rice beverages as they are not nutritionally complete.

Parents should not acquire instant formula or breast milk from unknown sources, such as online groups or third parties, either.

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

“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,” Health Canada said

"The Department has published an interim policy to recommend enforcement discretion to facilitate the importation of equivalent and safe infant formulas that have been approved by a foreign regulatory authority or are allowed to be sold in foreign jurisdictions that have high quality and manufacturing standards similar to Canada,” the agency continued. “The interim policy includes a list of products eligible for this policy that is updated regularly.”

(The interim policy can be accessed here.)

The shortage of extensively hydrolyzed formulas is putting additional pressure on the limited supply of amino acid-based formulas.

These formulas, in particular, Health Canada says, are critical for babies who are at risk of very serious allergy reactions.

“It is therefore critical that consumption of these products be facilitated by doctors only to babies who require them.”

Health Canada continues to monitor the supply situation and is working with manufacturers to import the product where possible.

Other manufacturers have increased their production to quickly provide alternative products and Abbott is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to safely return to production at its facility as soon as possible.