Kingston baby formula plant months away from producing domestic supply: expert

As baby formula shortages continue to cause concerns for parents both at home and in the United States, there is a facility in Kingston, Ont. that makes formula. However, it doesn't make baby formula for Canada, it's shipped overseas.

The switch to making domestic supply is not so simple.

The Canada Royal Milk Plant was built in 2019 and produces cows milk and goats milk baby formula, and it’s ramping up production. 

Right now, it ships all of its product to China, where its larger corporation Feihe International Inc. is based.

Sylvain Charlebois is a food expert with Dalhousie University. He says it’s one of two plants at locations around the world for the company to supply its consumers in Asia with baby formula. 

"My understanding is that all of the production is shipped to China because China had a major baby formula crisis back in 2008," he explains.

In a statement, Carey Bidtnes with Canada Royal Milk says the company is working with Health Canada to approve producing infant formula to sell in Canada. 

"(Canada Royal Milk) will be able to sell products domestically once the regulatory process is complete and approvals granted," Bidtnes explains.

However, the company could not give a timeline, saying the pandemic has impacted operations.

"This has delayed timelines for entry into the domestic and North American markets," writes Bidtnes.

The plant received $225 million in government funding, and uses Ontario and Quebec milk supplies. 

It also employs more than 150 people.

Charlebois says it was not required to provide the product to Canada, because it was being built during NAFTA renegotiations. 

"They thought the plant would become a threat to the three main manufacturers in the US," he says. “And that’s why, ironically, even though the plant is 30 kilometres away from the border it cannot ship baby formula to the states and help."

He says the ability for the plant to create supply here at home is months away.

"The plant in the U.S. will restart in about 6 to 8 weeks so it’s not going to fix our short-term problem. But it will fix a much longer-term problem," he says.