Vegan Health ArticlesLive Paratuberculosis Bacteria Found in U.S. Milk
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From Michael Greger, M.D.

There has been a media blackout in this country about one of the most important nutrition stories of the year, the recent finding of live paratuberculosis bacteria in retail milk purchased from stores in Wisconsin, California and Minnesota, proving that the organism can indeed survive pasteurization.[1]

In the view of Dr. Hermon-Taylor, leading paraTB researcher and Chairman of the Department of Surgery at St. George's Medical School in London, "There is overwhelming evidence that we are sitting on a public health disaster of tragic proportions."[2]

Although thousands die from food poisoning every year in the United States, most sufferers only experience acute self-limited episodes.

Up to 15% of those that contract Salmonella, however, go on to get serious joint inflammation that can last for years. An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people suffer from arthritis arising directly from food borne infections each year in the United States.[3]

One of the most feared long-term complications of food poisoning, however, is Guillain-Barre syndrome, in which infection with Campylobacter, a bacteria infecting up to 90% of Thanksgiving turkeys every year in the United States, can lead to one being paralyzed for months on a ventilator.[4]

Some scientists now fear, though, that an even more serious disease may be infecting our food supply. The United States has the highest incidence of Crohn's disease in the world, a devastating lifelong gastrointestinal condition.[5] The United States also has the highest incidence on the planet of a similar disease in cattle called Johne's disease.[6] We know that Johne's disease is caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, and more and more evidence is accumulating that human Crohn's disease may be caused by this bacteria as well.[7]

Drinking milk from cows infected with Johne's disease is how people are exposed to paratuberculosis.[8] Although these bacteria are found free-floating in milk, their transmission may be facilitated by their presence inside pus cells.[9] This is a particular problem in the United States, as we have the highest permitted upper limit of milk pus cell concentration in the world--almost twice the international standard of allowable pus cells (750,000/ml vs. 400,000/ml)[10] By US federal law, Grade A milk is allowed to have over a drop of pus per glass of milk.[11]

Despite research showing that by hiding in fat droplets, pus cells, and fecal clumps in milk[12] paraTB might be able to endure temperatures much higher than currently used in pasteurization,[13] the FDA and the USDA have continued to deny this pathogen could survive pasteurization. Now that the bacteria has been found growing in pasteurized milk taken right from supermarket shelves here in the U.S., their position is no longer tenable.

Why haven't we heard about this is the press? In an editorial entitled "Media and Censorship," the editor-in-chief of the Cleveland Free Times wrote: "The dairy lobby is notoriously powerful inside the Washington DC beltway. And a tax on dairy farmers helps the dairy industry spread its advertising dollars around generously (most notably the 'Got Milk?' ad campaign), to the point where the wholesomeness of milk goes virtually unquestioned in the media. How else can it be explained that the possible link between a bacterium in milk and Crohn's disease is virtually unknown in the United States, despite front-page coverage in England and other places around the world?"[14]

The dairy industry knows what kind of time bomb they're sitting on.[15] An article in Milk Science International entitled "Is Mycobacterium paratuberculosis a possible agent in Crohn's Disease?" warns that "the present state of knowledge is... potentially catastrophic for the dairy industry..."[16]

Every few hours, another child in this country is diagnosed with Crohn's disease and may be condemned to a life of chronic suffering.[17] The balance of evidence strongly suggests a causative link between Mycobacterium paratuberculosis in milk and Crohn's disease.[18] This public health issue has been at the periphery of the dairy industry's agenda for years, a nagging concern on the back burner.[19] Now that live paraTB bacteria have been found in retail milk here in the U.S., we need to move this issue to the front burner and we need to turn up the heat.


1 Cheese Reporter 19 August 2004

2 Chemist & Druggist 2000 Jan 29:11.

3 USDA: APHIS: ORACBA. Revue scientifique et technique (International Office of Epizootics) 1997 Aug;16(2):337-41

4 Cornell Cooperative Extension Food and Nutrition 1998 Nov/Dec

5 American Journal of Surgery 145(1983):546

6 PARA. MAP in the United Kingdom. 1999.  


8 Proceedings of the International Colloquium on Paratuberculosis 5(1996):353

9 European Commission: Directorate -- General Health & Consumer Protection; Directorate B -- Scientific Health Opinions; Unit B3. SANCO/B3/R16/2000. Adopted 2000 Mar 21:49

10 Smith KL, Hogan JS. Milk quality -- a worldwide perspective. Annual Proceedings of the National Mastitis Council; 1998; St. Louis, Missouri.]

11 Assuming a billion lymphocytes/ml as a reasonable defining concentration of pus, regulations per [Heeschen WH. Codex regulations and food safety. Bulletin of the International Dairy Federation 1997;319:24], a standard 20 drops/ml, and a "glass" as 500 cc, Grade A milk may have more than seven drops of pus per glass.

12 USAHA. Report of the USAHA Committee on Food Safety; 1998 Oct 5; Minneapolis, Minnesota

13 Grant IR, Ball HJ, Rowe MT. A novel staining technique for assessing clumping and viability of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis cells during pasteurization. Proceedings of the International Colloquium on Paratuberculosis 5(1996)

14 Project Censored. PARA Newsletter 2000 Jul:2

15 Wisconsin Agriculturist 1997 Dec.]

16 Milk Science International 1997;52:311-6

17 Wisconsin Agriculturist July 1998

18 European Commission: Directorate -- General Health & Consumer Protection; Directorate B -- Scientific Health Opinions; Unit B3. SANCO/B3/R16/2000. Adopted 2000 Mar 21:4

19 Wisconsin Agriculturist December 1997

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We began this archive as a means of assisting our visitors in answering many of their health and diet questions, and in encouraging them to take a pro-active part in their own health. We believe the articles and information contained herein are true, but are not presenting them as advice. We, personally, have found that a whole food vegan diet has helped our own health, and simply wish to share with others the things we have found. Each of us must make our own decisions, for it's our own body. If you have a health problem, see your own physician.