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Paratuberculosis and Crohn's Disease: Got Milk?
by Michael Greger, MD
http://www.veganMD.org
Updated January 2001

Beef

The standard veterinary recommendation when a cow is diagnosed with Johne's is to have her sent to slaughter. Beef from Johne's cattle is not prevented from being sold for human consumption because paratuberculosis is not officially considered a human pathogen. End-stage animals, their bodies dripping with literally trillions of paratuberculosis bacteria, are ground straight into hamburger meat.[123] When Crohn's patient advocates found out that infected tissues from animals with severe clinical paratuberculosis were funneled into the human food supply, they were described as, not surprisingly, "abhorred and nauseated."[201]

In the advanced stages of Johne's disease, MAP bacteria course through the cow's blood stream, infecting her internal organs, and possibly her muscle tissue (so far, no one has tried culturing MAP from a cow's muscle tissue). Even if the muscle tissue didn't contain large numbers of MAP before the infected cow's death, when she's slaughtered it seems impossible to ensure that feces do not contaminate the various tissues that are taken from her, as evidenced by the numerous E. coli food poisoning deaths in recent years.[123] As a scientist put it: "Consequently, both preharvest and postharvest contamination of food products originating from cattle is plausible."[34]

Although Americans eat 2.6 billion pounds of culled dairy cows annually, most hamburger meat comes from cattle raised for beef. In 1984, about one percent of US beef cattle were found positive for Johne's disease. Research is ongoing at the USDA to determine the current prevalence of Johne's disease in beef cattle, but since Johne's is such a hidden disease, is not reportable, and is not the subject of a mandatory control program, one might suspect that the incidence has increased significantly as it has in the dairy cattle population.[123] In spite of this situation, lack of awareness among beef producers is even greater than in dairy producers. The USDA Center for Animal Health Monitoring reports that 69.8% of US beef producers "had not heard of it [Johne's] before." And less then 10% of producers had any knowledge beyond name recognition.[43]

MAP bacteria probably survive standard cooking temperatures. Mycobacterium paratuberculosis is the most heat-resistant mycobacterium present in retail beef.[103] Even well-cooked meat may contain live paraTB. The USDA recommends that hamburgers be cooked to 71 C (160 F). An unpierced roast or steak need only reach an internal temperature of 63 C (145 F). Studies show prolonged exposure to at least 74 C (165 F) may be necessary to eliminate the paratuberculosis bug.[123] Mycobacterium paratuberculosis is also resistant to nitrites and the smoking process used in sausage production.[102] MAP may contaminate other meats as well -- paratuberculosis is suspected in pigs and chickens.[139]

Milk may be more dangerous to consume than meat, though, in regards to paratuberculosis. MAP is thought to survive digestion when carried in a vehicle like milk, because -- as designed by nature -- milk buffers the stomach environment to a near-neutral pH. In meat however, MAP's ability to survive digestion by stomach acid is less certain.

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