SCHOOLCHILDREN who have been ill after consuming milk given out under the Education Ministry’s 1Malaysia School Milk programme may be lactose intolerant.
Dutch Lady Milk Industries Berhad head of corporate communications Jad Mahidin said that based on previous cases, the symptoms might have been not because of food poisoning but due to the fact that they may be lactose intolerant.
“From our interviews conducted with students, parents and teachers, we are inclined to think that many of the affected pupils did not have breakfast before coming to school and they consumed the milk on an empty stomach,” she told StarEducate.
(People with lactose intolerance are unable to digest the lactose because of the lack of the lactase enzyme in the body. It means that the body cannot digest foods with lactose in them. Lactose is the sugar found in milk and foods made with milk. After consuming foods with lactose one may feel sick and the symptoms may include flatulence, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea.)
One up: Muhyiddin flanked by Wester and Johannis (right).
Jad said that most of them were from rural areas and had never or rarely consumed milk in their daily diet.
In some cases, she said, the children had oily and spicy food prior to consuming the milk which could have also resulted in a tummy upset.
The cases reported in schools could have also happened as a result of what she described as “herd mentality”.
“When one child is not feeling well, other children also feel unwell and complain of similar symptoms as well,” she said.
When asked about previous cases of children feeling unwell after consuming the milk given out under the 1Malaysia School Milk programme, Tetra Pak (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd managing director Anders Wester said there was no official report to suggest that the quality of the milk was substandard.
“To our knowledge, there is no fact or scientific data that says there’s something wrong with the milk. There could be various contributing factors. One of them is because some children could be lactose intolerant,” he said at a press conference after a signing ceremony to mark the company’s collaboration with Hybrid Allied Sdn Bhd on Tuesday.
Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was also present at the event.
“If you are not used to drinking milk, and you suddenly make a habit of consuming it, you may react to it differently. Some people may feel nauseous.”
“Based on our experience of running the feeding programme around the world, where we do five billion packs of school milk every year, all these packets have been consumed without any problems.
“I can assure you that our technology and processes are in order and we provide safe products,” he said.
For children who are lactose intolerant, Wester said the key factor was to start by taking only a small amount of milk.
“You don’t consume the full packet the first time. You take just a little bit, then you gradually increase the intake because if you have never consumed it before, your body will need time to adapt to lactose,” he said.
Hybrid Allied Sdn Bhd managing director Datuk Johannis Al-Arif Ibrahim said students were required to inform teachers if they had never or rarely consumed milk in their diet.
“At ground level, we will identify those who have and haven’t taken milk before.
“Students who have not consumed milk before will be asked to drink half the packet or just a few sips,” he said.
The school milk programme was suspended in August 2007, following cases of children complaining of abdominal aches.
It was then revived and re-branded as the 1Malaysia Milk Programme in Sept 2010 and launched in Sabah.
However, it did not take off until early this year.
In Sept 2011, Muhyiddin had said the Government would continue with its milk distribution programme to schools.
He was quoted as saying cases of schoolchildren falling sick after consuming the milk could have been due to poor storage or allergic reactions.