Formula milk price measures by end of the year

A lady buying milk powder at the Fairprice Xtra outlet at Ang Mo Kio Hub on May 11, 2017.
A lady buying milk powder at the Fairprice Xtra outlet at Ang Mo Kio Hub on May 11, 2017.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Task force set up to encourage good hospital practices, raise awareness, tighten regulations

A task force has been formed to ensure that key measures to address concerns over the rising prices of formula milk will be put in place by the end of the year, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said in a Facebook post yesterday.

"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 said.

Dr Koh, who will be heading the task force, outlined these measures in Parliament on May 8 in response to concerns raised by several MPs.

The Straits Times reported in March that the average price of formula milk had more than doubled over the last decade.

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Following recommendations by the Competition Commission of Singapore, the Ministry of Health, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said earlier this month that they wouldwork to encourage greater price competition, strengthen public education efforts and encourage hospitals to provide stronger support for breastfeeding.

The Government is now focused on implementing the measures, which will require close coordination among the public agencies and hospitals, said Dr Koh.

The task force will include Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor, MPs Sun Xueling and Rahayu Mahzam, and senior paediatricians Marion Aw from the National University Hospital and Chan Yoke Hwee from the KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

Work has already begun, said Dr Koh, with the HPB ramping up its public education programme on the nutritional needs of children.

HPB chief executive Zee Yoong Kang told The Straits Times last week that $1 million a year has been set aside for the next five years for the campaign, which will be launched by the end of the month.

Dr Koh said: "We hope that the measures the Government puts in place will lead to the availability of more choices of formula milk, and give parents greater peace of mind to select an option that best meets their family's needs."

Dr Khor said that her role would involve engagingthe various health agencies and organisations on the issue.

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Sun said that to tacklehigh prices, both the demand and supply sides of the infant formula milk market needed to be addressed. Strong brand perception among consumers presents an added challenge, she said.

Jurong GRC MP Rahayu, who gave birth to her first child last month, said: "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."

While she encourages breastfeeding, "we should not stress and pressure young mothers to breastfeed", she said. "But if they choose to do so, we should ensure that there is support at the workplace in the infrastructure and facilities."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2017, with the headline 'Formula milk price measures by end of the year'. Print Edition | Subscribe