MAP in the Environment

MAP in Food



Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP), which causes Johne's Disease in many species of ruminants, is endemic in the food animal herds of almost every developed country. According to a study conducted by the USDA in 1996, in the United States, between 20% and 40% of dairy cattle herds are infected with MAP, resulting in economic losses of at least US$1.5 billion each and every year.  (Results of a new USDA survey will be published in 2003 based on data collected in 2002.  With Johne's disease increasing at an alarming rate, undoubtedly the new figures will be higher, perhaps significantly higher, than those in 1996.) 

Since MAP is not classified as a human pathogen, meat, milk and other products from animals infected with MAP may be continually entering the human food chain. There is a wealth of evidence which appears to indicate that MAP is capable of surviving the food processing methods that we employ to protect us from disease, such as cooking and pasteurization. This scientific evidence is thoroughly reviewed and discussed in the MAP in Dairy Products,  MAP in Beef Products, and Marshfield Clinic Study sections of our website.  

MAP as a Food Safety Problem in the U.S.

Concerns about MAP and the scientific studies which suggest a connection to Crohn's disease in humans raise extremely grave concerns about food safety.

What are the chances that live MAP is in our food?  It is an undisputed scientific fact that live MAP is excreted in the milk of infected cattle.  Terrifyingly enough, scientific studies published in peer-reviewed journals have determined that MAP may be capable of surviving U.S. pasteurization standards. And, scientists have levied significant criticism at the one study that disagrees with the other studies, citing a misinterpretation of data by the scientists that conducted the study.   (See the MAP in Dairy Products section for detailed information.)

As a bit of history, in 1993, the first scientific study was published indicating that MAP may survive pasteurization standards used in the U.S.  This study was ignored by federal agencies responsible for food safety in the U.S.

Much later, in 1998 when University of Wisconsin researchers published their findings that MAP was able to survive current U.S. pasteurization standards, this study was again ignored by U.S. Federal Agencies cognizant of food safety. All in all, during the period 1993 through 2000 -- seven long years -- nine (9) scientific studies came in from the U.S. and around the world which suggested that MAP may survive current U.S. pasteurization standards/practices, and all of them were tossed to the side, ignored by cognizant U.S. Federal Agencies such as USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

In May of 2002, a study was published, entitled "Incidence of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis in Bulk Raw and Commercially Pasteurized Cows' Milk from Approved Dairy Processing Establishments in the United Kingdom"  (Grant, I.R.; Ball, H J.; Rowe, M.T.  Applied and Environmental Biology, May 2002, p. 2428-2435, Vol. 68. No. 5).  Results from this study confirmed that MAP survives pasteurization standards used in the UK, pasteurization standards which equal or exceed those used in the U.S.

Regardless, despite MANY pleas from PARA since mid 1997,  the USDA and FDA have not taken measures to exert the precautionary principle in determining whether indeed the food we give our children is free from contamination with MAP.

Other Countries Have Taken the Lead in Food Safety

While U.S. Federal Agencies ignored the scientific findings, other nations have stepped to the forefront in this issue.  

In August of 1998, the Food Safety Authority in Ireland (FSAI) took dramatic measures to remove MAP from the food chain,  by adopting the following measures: 

  • Animals diagnosed with Johne's disease must be removed from the food chain
  • From the time an animal is diagnosed with Johne's disease until it is culled, milk will not be used (pasteurized or raw) for humans or calves

Additionally, in 1998  the United Kingdom  took action.  The United Kingdom's (UK's) Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAFF) undertook a nationwide study to investigate the microbiological quality of raw and pasteurized cows' milk in the UK.   The preliminary findings warranted a larger study, which was published in May 2002 (Study by Grant, Ball and Rowe cited above.)   

In early 2000 the European Commission/European Directorate General of Health and Consumer Protection (DG24) published a 76-page report requesting an "urgent research program" to deal with the connection between MAP and Crohn's disease, and to deal with the transmission of MAP to the human population through the food chain.  Stating that "There are sufficient grounds for concern to warrant increased and urgent research activity to resolve the issue," the Commission recommends a wide rage of research that should be conducted as a matter of urgency. 

In December of 2001 the UK Government adopted a comprehensive strategy to prevent human exposure to MAP.  The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF), which advises the UK Government Food Standards Agency, approved a comprehensive program of measures aimed at eliminating MAP from retail milk, as purchased by consumers.  As the ACMSF says in its strategy document, "The Agency has put to one side the question of whether or not there is a link between MAP and Crohn's disease.  The Agency believes that precautionary action to reduce human exposure to MAP should start now and should not be dependent on waiting for the link to be proven."

U.S. Will Be Forced to Act!

PARA commends these European nations on their willingness to act in the best interests of their citizens and the best interests of the public health.   Unfortunately, U.S. Food safety regulators (FDA/FSIS/USDA) have taken the opposite position of perpetuating human exposure till a conclusive link is proven, literally gambling with the lives of millions of people.   Because of actions taken by other nations, the U.S. Government and animal industry will be forced to deal with the issue, despite their obvious reluctance to do so.   

As evidenced by "PARA's Paper Trail", a compilation of nearly 70 letters that PARA has sent to and replies from various agencies of the U.S.,  the formal record clearly demonstrates that every responsible agency of the U.S. Government, leaders of animal industry and the U.S. Congress have been sufficiently apprised of this situation.

Undoubtedly, there will be accountability issues raised in the future as to why the individuals within those agencies have been remiss in their responsibility to the American public.

In the opinion of PARA, the failure of these federal agencies to take swift action to ensure the protection of U.S. citizens is nothing short of a national disgrace!

(Please visit the Governments Section of our website for detailed information about actions taking place in various countries throughout the world.)

Source:   Contact PARA:
Paratuberculosis Awareness & Research Association, 1999-2003.