Singapore

Taskforce to study milk powder concerns

Group aims to tighten regulations on advertising and facilitate more import options, among other moves

A taskforce has been formed to ensure that key measures to address concerns over the rising prices of formula milk is 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 taskforce, 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 had more than doubled over the last decade.

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

COORDINATION

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 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 ST last week that $1 million a year has been set aside for the next five years for the campaign, which will kick off by the end of the month.

"We hope that the measures 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," said Dr Koh.

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

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Sun Xueling said that to tackle high prices, both the demand and supply sides of the infant milk formula market needed to be addressed.

Strong brand perception among consumers presents an added challenge, she said.

Both MPs on the taskforce will help to convey feedback from the ground, as well as provide information to the public.

Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam, 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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