Singapore to make more formula milk options available, says minister

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore is reviewing formula milk import regulations and, if it needs to have any changes, those will be done by the end of 2017.

More formula milk options to be made available
Tins of baby milk powder on supermarkets shelves. Reuters

Singapore's Senior Minister of State of Trade and Industry, Koh Poh Koon, in Parliament, said on Monday that the government is working to make more formula milk options available in the country.

Dr. Koh said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore is reviewing formula milk import regulations and, if it needs to have any changes, those could be finalised by the end of this year. The government will simplify and streamline import requirements and remove unnecessary barriers to entry in order to provide more options.

He said the government will take steps to increase consumer awareness and encourage good practices in hospitals. It would also tighten further restrictions on labeling and advertising as well. Dr. Koh added that in addition to this, the Ministry of Health will work with industry players to make available more infant formula options in hospitals.

He also said that recently the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) completed a market study by examining the milk formula industry and the nature of competition at each level of the supply chain. The study results will be published this week.

Dr. Koh added that if there is any evidence of companies working together to increase prices, CCS will not hesitate to investigate it.

Meanwhile, many raised questions in Parliament on why formula milk is more expensive here than in other comparable countries and whether the government will consider controlling measures to exert more pressure to keep prices fair. The MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol Sun Xueling asked Dr. Koh about how quickly are they planning to change the import regulations.

In response to these questions, Dr. Koh said the parents are needed to be educated to diminish their anxiety. They should be made aware that they are shortchanging their children if they buy cheaper formula.

"We need to educate our consumers as well, that despite whatever pricing strategy they may have on the generic formula, or despite whatever claims there may be, all formula fulfill minimum nutritional requirements, and are in fact are just as equally adequate," he said.

Dr. Koh said some milk powder companies sells a tin of 900 gm at around S$20 to S$30, while others brands can be priced at up to S$60. He explained that there should be no guilt on parents' part about getting a cheaper brand of milk, as long as their child can get used to the milk.

"There's no real reason to pay up more for something that is just as good and much cheaper," he added.

Dr. Koh said in some cases the research and development expenditure is more hence some products may cost more. Some of these kinds of milk are for a restricted group, who may have allergies or medical conditions. "What we can do is to make sure we increase the choices that are available, the options that are available and where necessary, put in the necessary financial support," he added.

Parenting portal has revealed that the prices of infant milk formula in Singapore was increased by an average of about 27 per cent from December 2012 to March 2017.