It’s hard to imagine a more crucial and emotionally charged product than formula, which is essential for infants who are too young for solid foods or cow’s milk, who have special nutritional needs and for whom breastfeeding is not an option. In recent months, baby formula shortages have left US store shelves empty and parents scrambling. Similar issues are beginning to be felt in Canada, where we source our formula primarily from the United States, from three companies – Abbott, Nestle and Mead Johnson – who have around 90% of the market share.
The shortage of infant formula has been in the headlines in recent months. In February, an Abbott production plant in Michigan was forced to shut down when two children died from bacterial infections at the plant. Considering longer-term supply issues resulting from the pandemic and reduced inventory in the supply chain has turned a critical item into a scarcity.
But the problem of infant food insecurity is a long-standing problem for countless Canadians, says Dr. Lesley Frank, Canada Research Chair in Food, Health and Social Justice at the Acadia University and author of Out of Milk: child food insecurity in a wealthy country.
As Canadians turn to any means necessary to stock up on infant formula, including social media, one source is increasingly felt: infant food banks, where communities come together to provide essential temporary solutions to an urgent problem.
The idea: Infant food banks specifically for infant formula and other nutritional needs of young children.
How it works: Canadian food banks are already an important resource for families. In 2021 alone, children accounted for more than 434,000 food bank visits across the country.
In order to meet their child’s nutritional needs, which Frank says are far greater in the first 1000 days than at any other time in life, unimpeded access to formula during the first months and first years is essential. Specially targeted donation and distribution centers are one way to make this a reality.
“Infant food banks,” Frank explains, “are specifically tailored to the needs of babies, like formula milk.” These are voluntary and community initiatives that ensure a supply of needed baby food. The Pregnancy Care Center & Infant Food Bank in Sudbury, Ontario, for example, has been in existence since 1996 and relies primarily on infant formula donations from the public. Above all, the success of child food banks depends on the generosity and ingenuity of a community.
For essential items like infant formula, for which there is often no nutritional substitute, creating more food banks for mothers of infants can help connect infants to food sources during unforeseen shortages like the ones we are currently experiencing.
The big picture: The presence of infant food banks would certainly help parents access formula during times of shortage like this. But it’s a band-aid solution to a much bigger problem.
“The community is responding because no one else has,” says Frank, author of an article titled Finding Formula: Community Organizational Responses to Infant Formula Needs Due to Household Food Insecurity. “Canada has not recognized the problem, nor has it had an answer to the problem. »
U.S. manufacturers that Canada relies on are starting to return to normal production levels and supply should be replenished soon enough. But it will still leave countless Canadians and single mothers facing child food insecurity – a problem that Frank says will continue to persist as long as greater economic measures are taken to support mothers of infants.
“The fact that there are infant food banks in Canada – that they even exist – is a sign that we have a serious problem in this country. Frank calls infant food banks “the most downstream solution you can find. I would therefore seek upstream solutions that concern the economic security of families.
The concept of economic sSupports for parents and new families are far from unknown. The Canada Child Benefit (CCB), for example, provides monthly payments to eligible parents. But Frank would like to see more enhanced supports tailored to those early years to help reduce barriers to infant formula for all Canadians.
In Newfoundland, for example, there is a nutrition-focused benefit attached to the ACE. Other countries, she notes, have taken paths surrounding food access issues. In the United States, for example, the government provides food stamps and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides foods like formula. (Fun fact for your next quiz night: the US government is actually the biggest buyer of infant formula in the world.)
But Frank argues that regardless of the state of the supply, which has only exacerbated the problem, too many Canadians are struggling to meet their baby’s basic needs. In a 2020 in-depth study she conducted across Nova Scotia, Frank concluded that “minimum wage and income security programs are inadequate for purchasing basic nutritious food during prenatal periods. , perinatal and early childhood…emphasizing the risk of food insecurity as a critical issue for young families facing income constraints.
“What I would like to see,” says Frank, “is for people to have decent wages, adequate maternity leave and to access on maternity leave in order to be able to do the work necessary to feed your baby – because it is work, whether you are breastfeeding or not.
This story is part of a series on food insecurity in Canada funded by the Maple Leaf Center for Action on Food Securityin partnership with Community Food Centers Canada.
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