More formula milk options to be made available amid concern over prices: Koh Poh Koon

More formula milk options to be made available amid concern over prices: Koh Poh Koon

All formula milk brands fulfil minimum nutritional requirements, said Senior Minister of State of Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon in Parliament.

Tins of baby milk powder on supermarkets shelves in Singapore. (Photo: Elizabeth Neo)

SINGAPORE: The Government is working to make more formula milk options available, said Senior Minister of State of Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon in Parliament on Monday (May 8). 

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) is reviewing formula milk import regulations and, if there are any changes, they could be finalised by the end of the year, he said. The Government will simplify and streamline import requirements and remove unnecessary barriers to entry in order to provide more options, he added. 

He also said the Government will take steps to increase consumer awareness, encourage good practices in hospitals and further tighten restrictions on labelling and advertising. In addition, the Ministry of Health will work with industry players to make available more infant formula options in hospitals, he said. 

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

Should there be any evidence of companies working together to increase prices, CCS will not hesitate to investigate, he added.

He was responding to questions from Macpherson SMC Tin Pei Ling on why formula milk is more expensive here than in other comparable countries, and whether the Government will consider control measures to exert more pressure to keep prices fair. The MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol Sun Xueling asked how quickly import regulations will be changed.

Dr Koh said education is needed to allay parents' anxiety 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 fulfil minimum nutritional requirements, and in fact are just as equally adequate," he said. 

He said that for a 900g tin, some milk powder is sold at around S$20 to S$30, while others brands can be priced at up to S$60.  

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.

He said that some products may cost more due to research and development expenditure, and 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 said.

One retailer has sounded its support for the Government's decision to review import regulations on formula milk. NTUC FairPrice CEO Seah Kian Peng said in a press release on Monday that the organisation shares the concerns among parents today on the cost of infant milk powder.

"We agree that more public education and understanding on the benefits of infant milk formula will help parents make more informed choices, and a review of import requirements will help us to provide better value options for our customers.”

The organisation added that it provides more than 150 varieties of infant formula from different brands, formulations and pack sizes ranging from S$30 to slightly over S$100 per tin. 

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

Source: CNA/ja