Regulations on Advertising and Labelling of Infant Formula Milk to be Tightened

On 8 May 2017, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon stated in Parliament that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (the AVA) would tighten the current restrictions on the advertising and labelling of infant formula milk. For instance, the AVA would bar the use of idealised images, and health and nutritional claims in the advertising of such milk.

Additionally, the Health Promotion Board's Sale of Infant Food Ethics Committee Singapore is currently backing a review to bring all infant formula milk for infants between six months and one year of age under the ambit of a code of ethics which would prohibit the advertising, promotion and marketing of such milk.

More details can be found in the article here.

Competition Commission of Singapore's Report on its Inquiry into the Supply of Infant Formula Milk

On 10 May 2017, the Competition Commission of Singapore (the CCS) published a report on a year-long inquiry that it had conducted on the supply of infant formula milk.

One of the findings in the report was that while the producers of infant formula milk did not adopt any anti-competitive practices, e.g. price fixing, they have been adopting aggressive tactics in the marketing of their products to consumers. For instance, some of these producers make payments to or sponsor private hospitals in Singapore to distribute the producers' goods.

Another tactic that producers have used is to leverage research and development to keep introducing new ingredients that have purported health benefits, but which are unsubstantiated, to their products. This is to enhance the "premium" image of their products as well as to establish customer loyalty. Because parents may not adequately comprehend the nutritional content of infant formula milk and the dietary requirements of their children, parents may assume that pricier products are of better quality, which may not necessarily be true. Also, many consumers tend to prioritise the brand name, nutrition and safety of infant formula milk, and often continue purchasing the brand of milk that their children had consumed since birth in hospitals.

This factor, along with the significant amounts invested by producers in marketing and research and development, have resulted in a surge in wholesale prices and, as well as retail prices for infant formula milk. In fact, this increase in retail price outweighs that of other dairy goods and household essentials.

In response, the Singapore Government has plans to tighten the rules to promote more price competition. This includes evaluating import requirements to allow for cheaper options of infant formula milk to enter the Singapore market, and expanding the range of options that hospitals currently offer.

Additionally, the Government intends to ramp up efforts to educate the public to support breastfeeding.

More details can be found in the CCS's media release here, in the CCS's report here, and in an article by The Straits Times here.

Ministry of Health to Release Drug Guidances to Increase Transparency of Decision-Making

On 3 May 2017, the Ministry of Health (the MOH) announced that the Agency for Care Effectiveness (the ACE), which the MOH established in August 2015, will be releasing its first set of 11 drug guidances from 3 May onwards. This initiative is aligned with the MOH's Beyond Healthcare 2020 plan to ensure that healthcare in Singapore remains affordable and sustainable in the future.

The drug guidances are crafted based on a Health Technology Assessment, which is a globally recognised way to evaluate the clinical and cost effectiveness of nascent technologies. The guidances will aid healthcare providers, professionals and patients in making informed decisions on the healthcare treatments which are appropriate for their circumstances. Additionally, the guidances will state whether there are government subsidies which Singaporeans between the lower and lower-middle income levels may be entitled to when purchasing medications for the respective treatments.

The release of these guidances will make decision-making more transparent, and is in line with what some of ACE's counterparts (e.g. the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence in the United Kingdom, and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee in Australia) have done.

More details can be found in the MOH's press release here.