Food Safety Regulations Series: Singapore
Monday, January 8th, 2018
To better understand the food regulatory landscape in Asia, APFI has spoken to law firms that specialise in food law from five different countries across Asia, which include China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines. By Farah Nazurah
In the fourth part of the series, we look at food safety regulations in Singapore. Nicholas Lauw, partner, intellectual property and technology, Rajah & Tann Singapore, shares his advice.
Please provide a short description of the firm.
Rajah & Tann Singapore is part of the Rajah & Tann Asia network of firms, and covers the full range of legal services. My practice specifically covers intellectual property, technology and media in addition to food regulatory work.
How do food regulation and registration vary depending on the product or category?
Singapore is relatively unique in that the vast majority of their food is imported. There is no significant agriculture in Singapore for which special regulations are required to protect from invasive species. Most of Singapore’s food regulations are therefore geared towards health and safety.
If the food to be imported is meat and fish products, fresh fruits, or vegetables, the business will require a licence from Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). If the food to be imported is processed food, they need only register with the AVA.
Samples of meat products will also be taken for laboratory analysis at points of entry, and certain foods such as meat and eggs can only be imported from certain approved sources. The importation of certain specially regulated foods such as live/frozen oysters, frozen blood cockle meat, frozen cooked prawns or frozen raw/cooked crab meat require a health certificate from the exporting country.
Which regulatory hurdles should manufacturers be aware of when entering the food market in Singapore?
It is important to take heed of the requirements in the various statutes on labelling and advertising. Failure to meet these requirements would amount to an offence. Over the past two years, there have been nearly 400 cases of food products not meeting labelling requirements. There can be complicated labelling and advertising requirements depending on the type of food being imported or sold, and it would be best to check the requirements with a lawyer just to be sure.
Do you foresee any major changes in Singapore’s food industry in the next few years?
Recently, a huge concern in the country is the issue of how much sugar Singaporeans consume. Following a speech by the Singapore prime minister on the subject, seven beverage companies have pledged to reduce the amount of sugar in their products to 12 percent or lower by 2020. This is likely to be just the start with further regulation to come, given that most soft drinks already meet this standard.
The Diabetes Prevention and Care Taskforce is conducting studies on additional implementation measures to encourage reductions in sugar consumption in Singapore. These potentially include sugar tax, warning labels and advertising restrictions on sugar-sweetened beverages with high sugar content.
Following the trend in other countries, it is possible that these measures may eventually not just be limited to the beverage industry. It remains to be seen if such regulations will extend to desserts, confectionary and other sources of sugar.
Another prevailing concern is the significant price hikes of infant milk powder. In March this year, the local media reported that the average price of a 900 g tin of formula milk had increased 120 percent over the last decade to SG$56 (US$51), outstripping the increases for other dairy products and household staples.
Earlier in 2017, the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) published their market inquiry into the supply of formula milk for infants and young children in Singapore. At the wholesale level, CCS found that formula milk manufacturers engaged mainly in non-price competition rather than price competition. They adopted strategies which sought to build a premium image for their products, and to entrench consumer brand loyalty instead of competing aggressively on price.
To resolve the significant inflation issue, the Singapore government set up a taskforce to put in place measures to address the rising prices of formula milk in the country, and we should see some changes in the regulations in this area moving forward. As it is, the debate over this area has seen both new startups in Singapore and existing supermarket chains bringing in new brands, both of which promise lower prices for infant milk powder.
Are there any other thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
Food regulation is not really something that many people think about seeing lawyers about, but this is a mindset that needs to change. The existing laws and regulations can be a minefield for the uninitiated, and getting proper advice on these is important especially for new players in the market, who can stand to lose any kind of market advantage they get if their business plans are stopped as a result of a failure to follow regulations.
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