Ms Josephine Teo, Minister in Prime Minister's Office & Second Minister for Manpower & Second Minister for Foreign Affairs in her most recent Facebook post shared her views as a mother on the choice of milk powder, stating that "milk is milk, however fancy the marketing."
Ms Teo's posting comes following closely after the release of recent report by the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) which stated that the increase in prices of milk powder over the past years was likely driven by heavy investment into marketing and research & development activities undertaken by Formula Milk manufacturers to attract parents to purchase their premium products.
Ms Teo shared that she and her husband stressed over which milk powder to get years ago when her kids started to drink formula milk as there were many brands and varying prices.
"But were there significant differences in nutritional value? Did paying more mean helping baby develop better?" were some of the questions that she had.
Ms Teo noted in her post that breastmilk is best and highlighted that both the Health Promotion Board, Singapore and World Health Organization (WHO) encourage mothers to breastfeed for at least 12 months.
At the same time, she also reassured parents who need to supplement their child with formula milk that all brands sold in Singapore, regardless of price, provide enough nutrition for babies to grow healthily. Noting that the child need not rely on milk powder after turning one year old. "Fresh cow's milk, as part of a balanced diet, works well enough."
She shared on her personal experience, "For my own journey, I concluded that milk is milk, however fancy the marketing. As long as AVA approves its import, the milk is good enough. I had no reason to pay more and would buy whatever was cheapest or on sale. The kids didn't always like adjusting but did so anyway. That's what I found great about kids - they adjust given time and encouragement"
In response to the findings, authorities will restrict formula milk manufacturers from using nutrition and health claims, as well as images that make drinking formula milk look attractive, once changes to Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) regulations take effect. AVA will also also streamline its import regulations in order to facilitate the entry of more suppliers and brands of formula milk, and the changes are expected to be finalised by end-2017.
Minister's comment misses the point
In hundreds of comments that can be found on Channel News Asia's Facebook page, readers do not seem to agree with Ms Teo nor think that the Minister has addressed the matter appropriately.
Keith Low wrote, "Totally out of point from the just promoted minister. The issue on hand is why are milk powders sold in Singapore are so much more expensive than other countries. It's not buying cheap vs expensive formulas. Even our cheapest formulas are also much expensive than the regions."
David Tan wrote, "To be fair not all expensive brands equates better quality. But I thought the original discussions was why the substantial increase in prices? Why are there no one taking that up? Just beat around the bush and blah blah blah and skip the question. And I also wonder, each time our millionaire ministers says something that sounds absurd, so many netizens will condemn them online but each election we see the same group of ppl being elected. Don't expect any changes if we do the same thing over and over again."
John Han wrote, "Please Miss Teo, how long ago u buy milk powder for your kids. Rewind back please. How many choice of milk powder we have back then. The choice were limited. Fast forward now, we have so many brands and choices now. You of course can say 'I have no reason to pay more and would buy whatever was cheapest or on sale' analogy... Last time milk powder display (shelves) 'don't need a big space' like now. Last time the shelves need only 'Small space' if you know what I meant. Question now is, which department involved in the pricing of the milk powder and other stuffs... same brand same product same manufacture but price differs when you enter different countries for sales.."
Faustina Chay wrote, "Hmm to just buy what ever is on sale / cheaper? Doesn't it make more sense to buy many cans of formula milk when it's on offer so u don't need to keep on changing / checking out what's on sale every now and then? And I beg to differ that milk is just milk. Even among the different brands of full cream fresh milk , the taste is different. If milk is just milk , why have so many brands? Just 1 will do!
Not the cheapest but the most compatible milk
Parents also chimed in, noting that it is not the choice of parents to make to buy the cheapest milk powder available but also powder that the baby is compatible with.
Masrina Rashid wrote, "She doesn't even knows what she is saying. What marketing is she referring too? I did not even know the brands of milk available until I looked up in forums myself to find out from other mummies. The only marketing Movements I saw were their presenters passing free gifts and samples at the gynae clinic to pregnant ladies during my checkup. Aiyoh. This is embarrassing. At least before u speaks to the public, go and do ur own research. If u cant do it because u are so busy managing other companies... go and get a good editor. Dont just say it because u assume so."
Michelle Ho wrote, "I totally agree with some of the comments above, it is not about buying cheap. It is whether the baby is able to take the milk formula. I say that from experience as I had spent a lot of money to change Brand’s to come to the right brand which suits my baby."
Khan Hong Chiew wrote, "I disagreed with what she said, my daughter was born in Alexandra hospital in 1980 and was given Lactogen milk powder, I continued with it after Mother and child discharged from the hospital, after a few days my daughter got diarrhoea, I shared my daughter's problem with a friend, he told me that my daughter was allergic to the milk powder and recommended me to change to S26, after a few hours, her diarrhoea stopped, subsequently I chose SMA milk powder for my son and S26 again for my 3rd daughter."
Rohana Mudzaffar wrote, "Talk nonsense...cofirm not she's not a responsible Mother. A good parent will buy what is best for her child in terms of dietry needs & child's well-being - not "buy whatever was cheapest or on sale". Parents dont chg formula milk depending on sales.. Confirm this one never take care of children.."
Hafeezy Mus wrote, "It was never about the brand or the nutrients it's all be compatibility. If the kid prefers one kind of milk and it happens to be the expensive kind what could we as parents do. To be honest, if I could give the kid from the get go, I would."
"Who doesn't want the best brand?"
A comment which received most attention was a comment from Darren Tan who questioned the Minister's posting on the matter, asking if the Minister is being hypothetical in what she is saying and what she practice in reality.
Darren Tan wrote, "I have strong doubts on what she said. If that's the case, why's she driving a car and living in private property? She has no reason to pay more when she can also get by with public transport and living in public flats like the rest of us. Get real. So what if all milk are the same? Who doesn't want the best brand? The government has "groomed" Singapore into such a materialistic society (starting from the very top where ministers are paid millions) and now she's attempting to reverse course?"
Another reader, Amelia Ng wrote to Tan, alleging that he is misinterpreting what the Minister meant. She wrote, "If the formula makes it to the shelves in Singapore, it means that it has passed certain standards and anything else is purely based on the parents' choice. To be honest, I would go for the cheapest formula if my kids didn't have eczema. She is lucky that her kids could adjust accordingly. Also, the government did not make Singaporeans materialistic, we are responsible for what we become. The government gets blamed for problems in the education system, housing and now milk powder? We are human and have a brain to think. We have the choice to choose not to conform to the so-called societal standards. No one is asking you to enrol your kids into top schools, buy expensive houses that you can barely pay for , nor the most expensive milk powder that claims to help your child's brain development. You have a choice!"
In response, Tan wrote, "Amelia, I didn't misinterpret what she meant. As I said, I understood her point - she is trying to say all milk powder are the same in terms of nutritional value. My point was: so what if they're all the same? Who doesn't want to get the best brand for their kids? Moreover, I doubt there can ever be a one-size- fits-all milk powder. As some others mentioned, it also depends on the baby's digestive system, any allergic reactions, premature baby and so on. I brought in housing because going by her logic, a house is still a house which provides shelter and comfort. Why must she stay in a private house opposed to a HDB flat which most other Singaporeans live in?
And here you are trying to downplay the role of the singaporean government in people's lives. Have you forgotten what Lee Kuan Yew said before? The Singapore government has to interfere even in the most personal decisions of our lives like where to live! The government has always advocated for people to get the best, be the best. So now - what's wrong with trying to get the best milk brand?"
Double standards by political leaders
Another comment that received the same level of attention which noted that trend of apparent double standards practiced by Singapore's political leaders.
Diu Lei wrote,
They tell us Public Transport is good, but they all move around in chauffeured limousine.
They tell us Hawker Food is good, but they all do fine dining.
They tell us Neighbourhood School is good, but their kids all goes to top ranked school.
They tell us Public Hospital is good, but they all goes to private doctors.
They tell us to fight for our lunch, but they keep giving lunch to their own.
They tell us degree is useless, but all the job listing including govt jobs ask for degrees.
They tell us HDB is good and affordable, but they all stays in guarded bungalows.
They tells us $1k is enough to live by, BUT THEY ASK TO BE PAID MILLIONS!