Paratuberculosis and Crohn's Disease: Got Milk?
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Paratuberculosis and Crohn's Disease: Got Milk?
Recommendations for Action
Despite the fact that M. paratuberculosis is now a known human pathogen, it continues to be tolerated in our food supply. After finding of MAP in their retail milk supply, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) now requires that cattle infected with Johne's be excluded from the food supply. The flesh from an infected cow is no longer considered fit for human consumption and her milk is simply dumped. Karen Meyer of PARA commented, "The government of Ireland is to be commended for exercising the precautionary principle. Instead of trying to sweep the problem under the rug, they acted swiftly to give human health priority over special interests."
The paratuberculosis problem in Ireland is minimal compared to that of the United States. According to the chief executive of the FSAI, of the 7.6 million cattle in Ireland, there are only 12 reported cases of Johne's disease. Nineteen percent of Irish retail milk samples grew out live paraTB and researchers only found 12 cases of Johne's disease in the entire country. Obviously, as the FSAI concedes, this may be an underestimate, but in the United States the paratuberculosis problem is exponentially worse. The estimated prevalence in the United States is some 20,000 times greater than that of Ireland.
If any country should be preventing contamination of the human food supply it should be the United States, which has the highest prevalence of Johne's disease in the world. At their Fall 2000 meeting, however, the NJWG continued to propose only voluntary measures to protect cattle health and no measures to protect human health. The removal of clinically infected animals from the human food supply alone has been modeled as having a highly significant impact. This could evidently be accomplished with relative ease, but as yet there has been little effort to do so. When asked how long it would take to clean up America's herds if suddenly no milk from Johne's-positive cows could be sold, one Johne's Disease Committee member said, "About six months."
The consumer movement also needs to fight to make Crohn's a reportable illness. The official FDA stance that pasteurization eliminates MAP is no longer tenable and must be continuously confronted with the British retail milk studies which put an end to the pasteurization debate once and for all. An extensive Freedom of Information Act search must be initiated to unearth suppressed documents. For example, seven years ago, Canada's agriculture department produced a food safety risk assessment paper concluding that the paraTB-Crohn's link was something about which to be concerned. The document, however, was stamped "Protected. Not for Distribution" and was as such buried. These are the kinds of documents the consumer movement needs to get a hold of.
In Dr. Hermon-Taylor's view, "There is overwhelming evidence that we are sitting on a public health disaster of tragic proportions." Europe's Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare, however, concluded that the currently available evidence was insufficient to confirm or disprove the theory. This uncertainty should not impede the government from taking concrete steps to prevent further potential human catastrophe. If the British government had acknowledged the precautionary principle, many lives may have been saved. The same exact things being said now about paraTB, "We'll wait and see," were those things said about mad cow disease. Once proof comes around, however, it may be too late.
The precautionary principle is the basis for most European environmental law and is playing an increasingly important role in health policies worldwide. Basically, it states, "If one has a reasonable suspicion that something bad might be going to happen, one has an obligation to try to stop it." An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
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