The Government is strongly focussing on curbing rising formula milk prices in Singapore. Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon has just announced a 6-member taskforce to address this issue.
In his Facebook post he writes that he will be leading the taskforce, which should be in place by the end of this year, "Senior Minister of State (Health) Dr Amy Khor, MPs Sun Xueling and Rahayu Mahzam, as well as Senior Paediatricians, A/Prof Marion Aw (NUH) and Dr Chan Yoke Hwee (KKH) will join me on this taskforce."
He also specifies the key aims of this taskforce, "Our priority is to tighten regulations on labelling and advertising, facilitate imports of more formula milk options, raise public awareness, and encourage good practices in our hospitals."
He adds, "Xueling and Rahayu’s views will be particularly invaluable as they themselves are mothers of young children, and understand well the sentiments of other parents on this issue."
Findings of Competition Commission of Singapore
Meanwhile here are some findings that have been revealed in the Competition Commission of Singapore's report:
- According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, the average retail price of formula milk has more than doubled over the past nine years.
- It has been revealed through industry reports and feedback that, brand name, nutrition and safety are the top three considerations when consumers purchase formula milk.
- Majority of parents tend to continue with the brand of formula milk that their babies are exposed to at birth in the hospitals. They rarely switch to competing brands of formula milk, unless there is a medical need.
- Most parents believe that the more expensive or premium products are of higher quality. This may be due to insufficient understanding of the nutritional content of formula milk, and the dietary requirements of infants and young children.
The following recommendations have been proposed:
- Educate consumers on the nutritional content of formula milk and the nutritional requirements of infants and young children.
- Review import rules on formula milk, while still ensuring food safety and security.
- Review formula milk sponsorships in hospitals.
Work has already begun
The Health Promotion Board (HPB) has already set aside $1 million for a public education campaign that will focus on advertising, brochures for hospitals and social media efforts. The campaign will also focus on the nutritional needs of children.
Senior Minister of State (Health) Dr Amy Khor writes on Facebook, "Being a mother myself, I can also understand the concerns of parents and that they want to do their best for their children."
"We will work for instance to promote awareness and education about breastfeeding and nutrition for infants and young children, and for more hospitals providing maternity services to adopt the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI)."
To clarify, BFHI-certified hospitals are barred from sponsorship arrangements with formula milk companies; they also actively encourage breastfeeding. All three public hospitals offering maternity services - KKH, NUH and the Singapore General Hospital - are BFHI-certified. However, none of the 7 private hospitals offering maternity services are BFHI-certified.
Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Sun Xueling, who recently published a very compelling analysis on rising formula milk prices in Singapore, writes on Facebook, "Residents are eager for change in the price trend of infant milk formula as it hits their pockets hard... Residents want to know what they are paying for."
"I look forward to contributing to the task force by sharing the feedback from the hundreds of young parents I meet every week so that the Government initiatives are understood and are calibrated correctly, and as much information is provided to residents as possible so that they can make informed choices."
New mum Ms Rahayu (Jurong GRC) tells The Straits Times, "It is not just an issue of controlling advertising and prices because you are also dealing with sentiments of parents, who will almost always be willing to pay a premium to give their child an edge."
"My son is currently on full breastmilk. I am already worrying about how it would be when I go back to my usual routine full-time."
Meanwhile, theAsianparent has reached out to formula milk companies for their take on the issue, and is waiting for their response.