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Paratuberculosis and Crohn's Disease: Got Milk?
by Michael Greger, MD
Updated January 2001

Conspiracy of Silence

Despite its pervasiveness and its ability to severely impact milk production and destroy whole herds of cattle, Johne's disease remains an industry problem that is not openly discussed.[106] In an article entitled "Johne's Disease: A Dairy Industry Perspective," Johne's is described as "something that farmers talk about secretly -- whisper behind hands." One dairy scientist stated that in all his years he had never heard an open, frank discussion of Johne's disease and calls for an end of the "whispering campaign."[5] Dairy farmers try to hide the fact that they have the disease in their dairy herds.[61] As an article in Cornell Veterinarian notes, "Farmers prefer not to acknowledge its presence and enshroud suspect cases with secrecy."[26] It is a problem that is kept out of sight and out of mind. As one dairy farmer put it, "It's [Johne's] a dirty word. It's like AIDS -- you don't talk about it."[54]

This conspiracy of silence extends beyond the producers to encompass the entire industry to the point of interfering with scientific dialogue.[24] From the Journal of Dairy Science: "Fear of consumer reaction...can impede rational open discussion of scientific studies."[34] Without doubt, says Chiodini, "the dairy and regulatory industries are concerned vocally...but their concern is limited to the possibility of 'bad press' to the industry rather than a concern for the truth or public health."[24]

The secrecy has successfully bred ignorance. Over a century after the disease was identified, almost half of all dairy farmers nationally surveyed by the USDA didn't know anything about the disease.[106] And those with the largest herds -- the herds most likely to be infected[106] -- were found least likely to have known of the disease.[195] Karen Meyer, then executive director of the nonprofit Paratuberculosis Awareness & Research Association (PARA), placed the blame on the representatives of the dairy industry. At a meeting of the USDA's United States Animal Health Association (USAHA), she challenged dairy producers to become more proactive. "If there are organizations you have been relying on for your information and to protect your interests, they have failed you miserably."[118] "I think we underestimate farmers," she told the Wisconsin Agriculturist. "If they even thought they were making someone sick, it would break their hearts."[61]

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