By Anna Mehler Paperny
TORONTO (Reuters) - Many Canadian retailers have imposed limits on the amount of baby formula customers can buy amid a shortage following Abbott Laboratories' February production suspension in the United States, an industry spokesperson said on Wednesday.
Canada has not been as hard hit by the shortage caused by the suspension at the Abbott facility, Retail Council of Canada spokesperson Michelle Wasylyshen told Reuters.
The United States has been grappling with a widespread infant formula shortage since top U.S. maker Abbott issued a recall in February after reports of bacterial infections.
Many Canadian stores stock products from other suppliers but supply has been an issue for various reasons since mid-2021, Wasylyshen said. She could not say how many stores, facing shortages, have imposed limits or when the limits started.
She urged against panic buying, especially formulas for babies with allergies that are badly needed and in particularly short supply. "There's enough to go around for everyone."
The vast majority of Canada's baby formula is imported, said Sylvain Charlebois, who studies food distribution and food policy at Dalhousie University.
Chinese-owned manufacturer Canada Royal Milk in Kingston, Ontario, exports its products.
Human Resources Manager Carey Bidtnes told Reuters production for the Canadian market was part of its business plan but that had been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
She said Canada Royal Milk will complete its submission to Health Canada to sell its products domestically by the end of the month.
Health Canada did not immediately return requests for comment Wednesday.
New manufacture of baby formula in Canada may be a hard sell economically "because that market is shrinking: Birth rates are getting lower. ... That's why there's been a lot of consolidation."
Earlier this month, Canada issued an interim order allowing for the importation of 20 baby formula products from Germany, Ireland, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Restarting production at the Abbott facility could help, although Canadians may not see that relief for at least two months, Wasylyshen said, adding retailers are bracing for further potential formula shortages due to shortages of key ingredients such as sunflower oil thanks to the Ukraine crisis.
She has heard reports of Americans heading north to buy formula but has not verified them.
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Nick Zieminski)