Some 1,000 students from schools in Adana, Edirne, Kırıkkale, Diyarbakır, Samsun, Sakarya and Sivas provinces have been hospitalized, believed to have received contaminated milk through the government's new free milk program instituted on Wednesday.
However, Education Minister Ömer Dinçer dismissed claims of milk poisoning. Although the number of students hospitalized continued to increase throughout the day, with many of them saying they started to feel bad after drinking the milk distributed. The minister said none of the students were hospitalized due to milk poisoning. “Information that we've obtained shows that these are not food poisoning incidents. Some students had nausea after drinking the milk and they were taken to hospitals for evaluation,” he said. He also added that the children were found to be “sensitive to milk.”
“If there are children who do not want to drink milk or if they have a sensitivity toward milk, then they should not be forced to drink milk,” he said. “A lot of people feel a little nauseated after drinking milk.”
The minister also assured the nation that the milk provided is reliable.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç also made a statement along the same lines as Dinçer.
A total of 110 students from four different schools in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır were hospitalized after suffering from vomiting and stomachaches. Several students had to be taken to hospital by ambulance.
On Wednesday, Diyarbakır Governor Mustafa Toprak dismissed claims that contaminated milk is to blame and stated that he doesn't think the incidents in Diyarbakır are related to the free milk given to students. Toprak added that this incident will not impede the government's free milk project and added that over 230,000 children were given free milk in Diyarbakır alone.
Moreover, around 110 schoolchildren were taken to Sivas Cumhuriyet University Research and Training Hospital, Numune Hospital and Sivas State Hospital to be treated for symptoms of food poisoning. Following these developments, the Sivas Governor's Office decided to postpone distribution of the free milk for the time-being. In addition, 200 more children were taken to the Numune Hospital in Sivas for treatment of similar symptoms.
Through the end of the day, the number of students who were taken to hospitals from suspected milk poisoning reached 600 in Sivas. Most of the students were discharged from the hospitals by afternoon.
Vecdi Ersöz, medical superintendant of the Sivas State Hospital, said that it is not yet certain that the food poisoning incidents are related to the milk distributed to students.
“We will know the reason of the poisoning only after laboratory evaluations are done. Some students who come to the hospitals are not poisoned but influenced psychologically by the situation of their friends,” he said.
Meanwhile, about 200 students were hospitalized in Adana from suspicions of food poisoning after drinking the milk.
Some students from Yusuf Hoca Primary School in Edirne were also hospitalized after drinking the free milk provided by the government. Edirne Governor Gökhan Sözer said he is investigating the issue.
Abdülkadir Hurşit, a professor from the Food Engineering Department of the Ondokuz Mayıs University, warned that many students are not used to drinking milk and they might have discomfort after drinking more than one glass of milk at a time.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced last month that approximately 7 million school children will receive free milk every day at school. “We are implementing a new program to contribute to proper nutrition for students from kindergarten to fifth grade,” he said.
Erdoğan made the announcement during a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary meeting. “We will distribute at least 500 milliliters of long-life cartons of milk to 7,063,768 students in kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth and fifth grade everyday, five days a week, in the classroom,” he said.
Erdoğan, in sharing the news, drew attention to the importance of proper nutrition in a child's development. “A malnourished child will not reach his or her full mental and physical capacity,” he said. The prime minister had also said the distribution of free milk for school children had been previously announced and that pilot studies had already been conducted.