According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), food borne illness is responsible for a large increase in infectious disease in the US. In 1999 (the last time the CDC calculated the incidence of food borne illness), they determined that 1 in 4 Americans was at risk of contracting a food borne illness, 1 in 840 at risk of landing in the hospital for it and 1 in 55,000 at risk of it dying from it. They also ascertained that 97% of food borne illness could be traced to farm animals either directly or through indirect contamination of other produce. As an example, theUS Department of Agriculture (USDA) has ascertained that 90% of Thanksgiving turkeys are contaminated with campylobacter, the most common cause of bacterial food poisoning. Moreover 75% of turkeys are contaminated with two or more food borne illnesses, with salmonella coming in a close second to campylobacter.
More recently, outbreaks of pathogenic strains of E. coli (which have caused kidney failure and death in several children) have become an ever bigger public concern. Some of these outbreaks have resulted from contamination of fruits and vegetables with E. coli from animal feces, an embarrassing complication of the failure of federal inspection standards to keep up with major health hazards associated with our modern system of industrialized agriculture.
Unfortunately the food borne illness posing the most serious danger to human health receives virtually no attention in the US despite being front page news in Europe and other parts of the world. In fact there seems to be a definite conspiracy of silence around health problems related to Mycobacterium Avium Paratuberculosis (MAP) an organism which, according to European studies, survives pasteurization and is present in retail milk supplies.
A Conspiracy of Silence
MAP is a relatively treatment resistant organism, closely related to the mycobacterium that causes tuberculosis and leprosy. There is strong evidence from Europe (thanks to 30 years of intensive research) that MAP is implicated in 80-90% of cases of Crohn's Disease. Crohn's is an extremely disabling often fatal illness affecting 500,000 Americans every year. There is also increasing evidence that MAP is implicated in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), also an untreatable illness, affecting 15-30 percent of Americans. IBS, while rarely fatal, can be extremely debilitating, in terms of pain and suffering, medical expense and days off work (at an annual economic cost estimated at $40 billion). In fact some research (related to DNA fingerprinting technology) suggests that IBS may actually be a mild, early form of Crohn's that eventually progresses to Crohn's in later life. Which is very exciting because it raises the possibility that early treatment of IBS patients with evidence of MAP infection could prevent the development of full blown Crohn's and severe intestinal damage that can only be corrected by surgical removal.
I first learned about a possible link between MAP in milk and Crohn's Disease from the 1999 edition of Project Censored. Project Censored is a project of Sonoma State University that gives awards and reprints the top 25 news stories censored by the US mainstream media. The explosive story about the MAP/Crohn's link first appeared in the Cleveland Free Times.
Oddly enough Kennedy Dalziel, the Scottish surgeon who first described Crohn's Disease in 1913, was first to suggest it was linked in some way to Johne's Disease, a wasting disease of cattle now known to be caused by MAP. He was immediately struck that Crohn's showed nearly the same symptoms in humans (and pathological changes on autopsy) as Johne's does in cows.
Unfortunately establishing MAP as a causative agent in Crohn's has been extremely difficult in part owing to unique characteristics that make it extremely difficult to isolate from the human bowel. In fact only the recent development of DNA fingerprinting technology has enabled researchers to demonstrate that 80-90% of Crohn's patients harbor MAP in their intestines
At present most Mycoplasma Avium Paratuberculosis (MAP) research takes place in Europe, even though Rhode Island surgeon Dr Rodrick Chiodini was the first to culture MAP from children with Crohn's in the mid-nineties. MAP research is extremely controversial in the US owing, in part, to a US Department of Agriculture Survey (USDA) revealing that 68 percent of US dairy herds test positive for MAP infection (which can be asymptomatic).
Does MAP "Cause" Crohn's Disease?