Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Baby Formula in Short Supply 

Kosher grocery stores are facing depleted stocks of an imported Israeli baby formula popular among Hasidic Jewish families.

Materna, the manufacturer, is no longer able to make shipments to the U.S., leading to shortages of one of the few dairy-based formulas that conforms to the religious laws followed by Hasidic Jews.

"I'm getting at least ten calls a day asking if it's in," said Yermi Fried, manager of Empire Kosher in Crown Heights. "It's sad, there's a big demand. People are grabbing it off the shelf, whatever is available. I have barely anything left."

While there is a wide selection of kosher formulas available on the market and used by Orthodox Jewish families, Hasidic families have fewer options. They look for a more stringent kosher standard referred to as cholov yisroel. The formula shortage was first reported by the website Kveller.com.

"It's an ultra-Orthodox standard of kashrut, which means the milk has to be watched by a kosher supervisor from the time it leaves the cow," said Sue Fishkoff, the California-based author of a book on kosher food.

The only dairy-based options sold commercially are the Materna formula and a Similac product, which families say is more expensive and doesn't come in a powder form. There are also soy-based formulas that Hasidic families can use.

"I use Materna for my daughter, and it's just not available now," said Chanie Frankel, a Borough Park mother of an 8-month-old. "Similac is way more expensive. It takes awhile for a kid to get adjusted to a formula, and my daughter is already adjusted to Materna. Now I have to go and find something else."

It's unclear why Materna halted deliveries to the U.S. The Materna USA website says the company is "working around the clock to resolve this" and refers to "issues that are beyond our control."

In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration issued an import alert instructing its field inspectors to detain infant formula from Materna Laboratories that had been produced in Post Maabarot, Israel. "This means that the product can be detained without further testing or inspection, as it does not meet FDA standards," an FDA spokeswoman said in an email.

The spokeswoman did not respond to follow-up questions.

A spokesman from the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the agency has regulated milk products from Israel since at least 2009 because of the presence of foot-and-mouth disease there, but he was not aware of any specific problems with Materna.

Gabe Boxer, a general manager at Pomegranate supermarket in Brooklyn's Midwood section, said he stopped getting shipments of Materna from suppliers about two weeks ago. "It's a very, very popular item," he said. "We sell hundreds of units a week, if not thousands. We are getting phone calls every day from customers and we only have a few pieces left on the shelf."

Mr. Boxer said he was told by his suppliers that a shipment should be allowed into the country after Passover next month. "Everybody's almost out of it," he said.


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