School milk legislation in Panama ensures programme sustainability

Benefits of school milk

School milk programmes are an effective means of providing nutrition to children, as milk contains 14 of the 18 essential vitamins and nutrients necessary for healthy growth. School milk improves student health, promotes school attendance, and contributes to enhanced academic outcomes as the result of access to good nutrition. Milk in schools also increases the demand for quality locally produced milk, thus supporting the development of the agricultural sector and creating jobs in the local dairy industry and the entire dairy value chain. The country benefits when productivity is increased, and health care costs are reduced by improving the health and nutrition status of the population. In addition, school milk programmes create the habit of long-term milk consumption that benefits individuals and the society at large.

School feeding legislation in Panama

In the case of Panama, Law No. 35 of July 6, 1995 was established to ensure funding and continuity of the school milk programme. This legislation mandates that a ration of 236ml. of milk and nutritional biscuit should be provided to each child attending pre-schools and primary education centres in the country. The primary objective of Law No. 35 is to ensure that the Panamanian school population that attends these pre-school and primary education centres has access to a nutritious supplement for their diet. Furthermore, attending school will improve the academic performance of children. In addition, Law No. 35 stipulates that milk must be purchased from local dairy farmers and processed by domestic producers.

The Ministry of Education (MEDUCA) is responsible for coordinating and administering the school feeding programme through the National Directorate of Nutrition and School Health. The Ministry of Education must submit annually an operating budget for the programme that includes all necessary expenses to enable the school feeding programme to be implemented on a permanent basis. Targeted children have benefited from programme implementation for more than 25 years, due to Law No. 35 that ensures programme sustainability.

Innovating with fortification

The Directorate of Nutrition and school health has a team of nutritionists that collaborated with our customers to develop a new fortified dairy drink called "Lacti Deli" that has Omega3 DHA in addition to 10 vitamins and 3 minerals. Each 236ml serving has 32g of Omega3 DH. Clinical studies show that DHA plays a significant role for visual and neurological development in addition to improving the immune system and contributing to a healthy heart. Additionally, "Lacti Deli" is fortified with 10 vitamins,3 minerals and soluble fibre including: Vitamin A, C, D, E B1, B2, Niacin, B6, Folic Acid, B12, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. It is important to note that "Lacti Deli" is the only school milk formulation in the region that is fortified with Omega3 DHA.

The fortified UHT milk is being distributed to 219,779 children in 405 schools with 4 flavours being available: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and oatmeal. The new formulation with its variety of flavours has been a total success among children and has more than 90% acceptability. Due to lack of cold chain distribution in the country, Ultra-High Temperature milk is being delivered to ensure food safety.

Sharing best practices and supporting schools with environmental education

Over the years, Tetra Pak and Tetra Laval Food for Development have also provided support to our customers and MEDUCA by sharing best practices on the proper management of milk beverage cartons, which included the preparation of milk stock handling posters and training sessions to targeted schools. The circular economy team prepared a detailed manual includes information regarding a clean environment and recycling, detailed instructions on what to do with beverage carton packages after consumption as well as activities that can be done by children with empty beverage carton packages.

By providing technical assistance, we have collaborated to share best practices in programme management, food safety protocols, distribution modalities, and monitoring of programme implementation. MEDUCA provides detailed instructions to schools for milk deliveries, stock movement documentation, the proper storage of UHT beverage cartons and guidelines regarding milk consumption. There has been a strong acceptance and appreciation of the programme by schools, parents and targeted communities; and parents are involved with programme implementation in schools.


School girls in Panama, carton recycling

School girls in Panama, carton recycling

School kids rinsing cartons

School children rinsing cartons