A North American shortage of baby formula is reaching crisis levels as Canadian parents have begun panic buying the infant nutritional products wherever they can find them.

Shoppers are being met with empty shelves as both the US and Canadian markets struggle to ramp up waning production.

Canadian parents are also concerned after finding out that baby formula produced at a taxpayer-funded factory in Ontario – which uses Canadian dairy – are all being sent to China. 

Canada relies on imports from the US for its baby formula rather than domestically produced supplies.

“We actually manufacture baby formula in Canada, but all of it goes to China,” said Dalhousie University director of the agrifood lab Sylvain Charlebois. “That’s why, right now, parents are scratching their heads wondering, why are we short?” 

“Just seven days ago, the Retail Council of Canada was basically telling Canadians ‘don’t worry about it, don’t worry’. But I didn’t understand that message at all as eventually, it would affect the Canadian market – and now I think Canadians are not trusting what people are telling them to do.”

As reported by True North, the federally funded Canada Royal Milk Plant in Kingston exports all of the baby formula it produces to Beijing. The company – which is owned by China’s Feihe International Inc. – has received taxpayer funding to the tune of $225 million. 

“Feihe International is the largest domestic producer of formula for infants and young children in the People’s Republic of China, and the company recently celebrated its 56th year in business,” the plant’s website states

“Canada Royal Milk will manufacture formula for infants and young children using both cow dairy and goat dairy, building local supply chains to benefit the Canadian economy.  Most of our production will be for export, but we intend to develop nutritional products for the North American market as well.”

In response to the shortage, US President Joe Biden announced “Operation Fly Formula” to use Air Force planes to bring in formula from Europe. Authorities have also ramped up efforts to reopen a shuttered baby formula plan in Michigan, which Charlebois says could alleviate the shortage within a month’s time. 

Meanwhile, Health Canada has put out a statement announcing it would ease import regulations around baby formula products for countries with high health standards. 

“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,” Health Canada wrote.