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 in any given year, 1 out of 4 Americans was at risk of contracting a food borne illness, 1 in 840 at risk of being hospitalized for it and 1 in 55,000 at risk of dying from in. As of the 1999 CDC study, 97% of food borne illness was caused by animal foods. As an example, the US 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. And whereas most cases of campylobacter and salmonella poisoning are acute self-limited episodes, patients sometimes go on to chronic debilitating complications from which they never fully recover (see http://www.mad-cow.org/00/paraTB.html)
More recently, outbreaks of pathogenic strains of E coli (which have caused kidney failure and death in several children) have become a major source of public concern. These outbreaks have related to 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.
Human illness stemming from E coli, campylobacter and salmonella have received widespread media attention (see http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-03-03-food-borne-illness_N.htm). 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 associated with Mycobacterium Avium Paratuberculosis (MAP) – an organism which, according to European studies, survives pasteurization and is present in retail milk supplies.
M. Avium Paratuberculosis: a Conspiracy of Silence
MAP is a relatively treatment resistant organism, closely related to the mycobacteria that cause tuberculosis and leprosy, which also tend to be treatment resistant illnesses. There is strong evidence from Europe (thanks to 30 years of intensive research) that MAP is implicated in 60-90% of cases of Crohn’s Diease. 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 the diarrhea predominant form of irritable bowel syndrome, an illness which, while rarely fatal, can be extremely debilitating, in terms of pain and suffering, medical expense and days off work.
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 a reward and re-prints the top 25 news stories censored by the US mainstream media. The explosive story first appeared in the Cleveland Free Times.
A Link First Proposed 100 Years Ago
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 (and pathological changes on autopsy) in humans as Johne’s does in cows.
Unfortunately establishing MAP as a causative agent in Crohn’s has been extremely difficult – in part owing 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 60-90% of Crohn’s patients harbor MAP in their intestines at significantly higher levels than either healthy controls or patients who suffer from other types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I will elaborate on the scientific basis for these findings in future blogs, but readers with Crohn’s or irritable bowel syndrome should definitely see the YouTube presentation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pYuf5rnnQo&feature=related) by Dr Hermon-Taylor from St George’s Medical School in London.