By: Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the article “Milk formula companies provide sponsorships, payments to private hospitals to stay on milk rotation systems” (Straits Times, May 10).
“Conference and training course fees and materials for staff, and hospital dinner and dance functions are some examples of sponsorship that milk formula companies provide to hospitals with maternity services, the competition watchdog has found. Infant formula manufacturers provide such sponsorships and/or payments to private hospitals for participation in their milk rotation systems, according to an inquiry report by the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) released on Wednesday (May 10).
Milk formulas are provided to infants who need it in hospitals on a rotation basis. But the report found that milk formula manufacturers could ensure their products stayed on the rotation for longer periods if they provided better sponsorship support to the hospital or paid “rotation fees”. Formula companies have invested significant efforts and resources into hospital marketing activities to gain a “first-mover” advantage, given that the majority of parents who use formula milk in hospitals do not have a preferred brand and tend not to switch brands after leaving the hospital, the report said.”
Perhaps the CCS should also look into what other types of businesses “provide such sponsorships and/or payments to private hospitals” and “have invested significant efforts and resources into hospital marketing activities”. Because at the end of the day, the moral of the story may be that there is no such thing as a free lunch (or free milk powder) – as it is apparently evident now that the consumer may end up paying more. Sort of like having some of your future lunches stolen.
The report also said that while manufacturers sponsor activities at public hospitals, it did not influence the milk rotation schedule. And that the practice of sponsorship and fees is widespread – and this despite the fact that no financial inducements are allowed to be offered to hospitals, clinics and retail pharmacies to promote products according to the Sale of Infant Foods Ethics Committee Singapore’s (Sifecs) code of ethics.
Does that mean that one can breach the code of ethics, as long as “this does not influence the milk rotation schedule” “at public hospitals”?