July 1, 2022

Why You Can’t Just Order Baby Formula From Canada

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Photo: The Toidi (Shutterstock)

With baby formula continuing to be in short supply, parents of infants are looking for creative ways to get their hands on that precious Enfamil—but a simple, seemingly ingenious solution that’s going viral right now will not work as described. The suggestion that’s spreading on Facebook and Twitter advises parents to go to Amazon and change their account’s country from the U.S. to Canada.

The claim is that if you do this, you will be rewarded with all kinds of baby formula-purchasing options—because Canada doesn’t have a major formula shortage. The problem, however, comes when you want to get the formula (or anything else) actually delivered from Amazon Canada. The company will only ship products within Canada, so unless you have a friend in Manitoba, it’s not going to work.

Amazon’s shipping restrictions page says:

Certain restrictions prevent us from shipping certain products to all geographical locations. Restrictions for specific items may require the purchaser to provide additional information in order to ship the item.

You might be able to find a third-party formula shipper on Amazon, but this is expensive in terms of shipping costs, and it might not be legal, depending on the kind of formula being imported.

The FDA’s role in all this

The larger issue of why the U.S. as a nation doesn’t import more baby formula is more complicated than Amazon’s rules. Only about 2% of the U.S.’s formula comes from foreign sources. February’s recall from major manufacturer Abbott threw off our delicate national formula supply chain, and correcting the problem presents some serious challenges.

If it was some other commodity, maybe more could have been imported quickly, but we’re particular about our baby formula. Formula has to meet the FDA’s nutritional standards and other requirements to be sold here. While European brands of formula generally meet or exceed the FDA’s nutritional requirements, (so much so that there’s a black market for foreign formula) the packaging and other aspects of the products are a different story.

The recall and FDA approval is only part of the story—the rest is economics.

Tariffs and dairy protection

In order to protect the U.S. dairy farming industry and U.S. formula manufacturers, the tariff on importing baby formula is set at 17.5% for most kinds of infant formula. The recently revamped NAFTA agreement actually raised the cost of importing Canadian formula, discouraging anyone from building a new plant there, and making it costly to import any excess from Canadian factories.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

While there’s no way to change tariffs quickly, the government is taking other steps to try to end the crisis. The FDA this week announced plans to ease the shortage through loosening up some of its rules (but not the ones covering nutritional requirements), and Abbot today announced its facility should be back online, with new safety standards in place, in a couple weeks.

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