SINGAPORE – Stricter rules on labelling and advertising of food, including formula milk for babies, were passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Nov 7) together with provisions allowing the authorities to act more quickly on food recalls.
By: TOH EE MING
Source: Today Online
Amendments to the Sale of Food Act (Sofa) will mean tighter regulations on health and nutrition claims, to enable consumers to make more informed choices.
Regulatory changes on health claims and images on infant formula milk labels will be announced by the end of the year, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Koh Poh Koon.
The authorities do not want parents to be “unduly swayed into paying more for certain products due to aggressive or potentially misleading marketing”, said Dr Koh. He chairs the taskforce formed in May to address the Competition Commission of Singapore’s findings of significant barriers of entry to the infant formula milk market that have pushed prices here to among the highest in the world.
In recent months, major supermarket chains have introduced more affordable brands.
“Certain claims and images on tins create the impression, even when scientific evidence is weak, that these products can somehow do more for children,” said Dr Koh. Instead of prosecutors having to prove a label or advertisement is false if the case is brought to court, changes to the law will require the defendant to prove the advertisement or label is truthful.
Sofa amendments will also allow the authorities to require infant formula companies to place statements encouraging breastfeeding on their labels, said Dr Koh.
On food safety, he said food supply chains are increasingly complex and it now takes more time to confirm the source and nature of any contamination. Instead of waiting for the outcome of such an investigation or the test results of samples, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) will now be able to recall food when contamination is suspected.
Because food recalls can disrupt businesses and harm their reputation, the AVA will work with the industry to address a situation before a food recall is announced. In the “unlikely event of a false alarm”, there will be an appeal and compensation mechanism for affected parties to seek redress, said Dr Koh.
Seven Members of Parliament such as Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio) and Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon) spoke during the debate, asking if the Sofa amendments would cover the sale of food online – to which Dr Koh said yes – and how enforcement of claims on labels and advertisements would be carried out. Dr Koh said an existing framework is already in place. “Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth” is an example of an approved health claim.
Companies that want to make a new health claim have to submit an application with scientific evidence to the AVA, which is then assessed by a committee that includes academics. The AVA then decides whether to approve a claim.
Agreeing with Mr Ng that infants should not get “hooked” on certain formula milk brands provided to hospitals, Dr Koh said public hospitals rotate major brands of infant formula equally thoughout the year, and more affordable brands could be made available. The three public hospitals with maternity services are already on an initiative that bars them from accepting gifts from milk companies and distribution of marketing materials and milk samples.
As part of the Sofa changes, AVA may license all non-retail food businesses such as warehouses, wholesalers and distributors to protect public health. It will start with the ones storing high-risk items like infant or baby food and products that require proper temperature control like yoghurt. Dr Koh said over 1,000 food warehouses have been registered on a voluntary basis. Licensing fees will be pegged to the size of the warehouse and will not exceed S$600 a year, he said. The AVA will study if other non-retail food establishments need to be licensed.