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News Release

CountryDateRelease Date

United States

October 15th 1998


PARA Takes the Case for Retail Testing to USAHA(U.S. Animal Health Association).

USAHA '98, Minneapolis MN, October 3 1998

In October 1998, three board members of the Paratuberculosis Awareness and Research Association (PARA), Cheryl Miller, Steve Merkel, and Alan Kennedy, attended the annual meeting of the United States Animal Health Association (USAHA). PARA attended this meeting to present the case for retail testing of milk, beef, and other cattle products. The purpose of such testing is to determine if those products contain viable bacteria of the species Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis(MAP), which has been implicated in the causation of Crohn's disease. PARA attended the following committees:

  • National Johne's Working Group

  • Johne's Disease Committee

  • Food Safety Committee

National Johne's Working Group

For a discussion of the history of the National Johne's Working Group (NJWG), please read our NJWG page.

Report of the Subcommittee on Research Status and Priorities: Dr. Judy Stabel, Chair, presented the report of this sub-committee, which essentially consisted of a printout of a query on the MEDLINE database, using the keyword "paratuberculosis". This report downplayed the link between MAP and Crohn's disease by emphasizing that while some research studies do detect MAP in tissue from Crohn's patients, an "equivalent number" do not. The report also attempted to minimize current research showing MAP surviving in pasteurized retail milk, and essentially ignored recent findings in the United Kingdom that MAP can be cultured from retail milk.

An NJWG objective approved at the USAHA annual meeting in October 1997, stated "NJWG will evaluate information suggesting M. paratuberculosis is a zoonotic pathogen and assess the likelihood that animals serve as a reservoir of infection." We believe that this Subcommittee report was inadequate at addressing the stated objective.

Discussion of quantitative Johne's tests: There was discussion of using tests for Johne's to determine a quantitative measurement of the degree of infection in a cow, so that only those cows above a certain threshold would be culled from the herd. This discussion caused Paul Shadbolt, Staff Veterinarian for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, to comment, "I'm losing faith in you folks in the U.S.A. If you're trying to get rid of Johne's in your herd, you don't leave positive cows. You cull all the positive cows. This talk of a threshold of disease is crazy."

  • Discussion of test unreliability: During discussion of tests, two valid concerns were expressed: the unreliability of present tests, and the variability of results from lab to lab. Reliable tests are a concern to PARA because to clean up the herds, we need tests showing that a cow is truly Johne's negative or positive with a high level of confidence. The reason why such tests are not available is because of chronic underfunding of research.

Report from the Subcommittee on Herd Certification: presented by Co-chair Dr. Leslie Bugala, Veterinary Medical Officer with USDA, this report outlined a practical plan for achieving Johne's-free status in a herd with a 99% confidence level in four years, using present testing technology. The practicality of this plan and the reasonable cost of implementation leaves the dairy industry with no excuse for not cleaning up the herds.

Voluntary control of Johne's disease: Great emphasis placed on making all Johne's control programs voluntary. As one NJWG member put it, "If the farmers have to report positive cows, then it will be like the sheep scrapie program. Instead of reporting the disease, the farmers will 'shoot, shovel, and shut up.'" In line with that philosophy, the NJWG drafted a resolution reversing last year's position of recommending that states make Johne's a reportable disease. This year's resolution asks the states to NOT make Johne's a reportable disease.

Our comment comes from a cattleman: "Voluntary? Unless you make it mandatory, nothing's going to happen."

Congresssional awareness:One of last year's resolutions called for NJWG members to "seek greater Congressional awareness and support to adequately fund Johne's and Crohn's research needs."

In 1998, PARA has influenced congress and the National Institutes of Health far more effectively than has the NJWG.

PARA's presentation to the NJWG

First Cheryl Miller spoke on "Why is Crohn's disease a concern?" Then Alan Kennedy presented his paper: "MAP: The case for retail milk testing." While he was speaking, John Adams, who was chairing the meeting, kept interrupting, "Hurry up, make it short, we need to move on." His interruptions were very unnerving.

Cheryl Miller spoke again. She challenged the NJWG to fulfill their duty, according to their own mission statement, reminding the veterinarians in particular that they had taken a oath to work for human health. But her choicest remarks were saved for the two milk pasteurization studies that the FDA and the National Milk Producers Federation use to justify their position that there is no hazard from MAP in pasteurized milk. She pointed out the fact that the Keswani/Frank study was structured as an exercise to give graduate students a project they could complete in a year, and criticized Dr. Stabel's study as one "performed by a researcher who by her own admission couldn't find MAP in raw milk in bulk tanks on farms with known infected herds." (Full text of speech)

  • The mission of the NJWG:Cheryl Miller asked about the original mission of the NJWG, which was to look at the link between MAP and human disease. Co-chair John Adams said that in 1994, having looked at the subject, that the NJWG decided that they couldn't determine an association, so they changed their mission. PARA's comment: The NJWG needs to review their own Mission Statement approved in October 1997, which says "The National Johne's Working group will serve as a resource for animal agriculture in assessing any potential association between Johne's and human health."

  • Milk testing resolution: PARA submitted a resolution recommending the testing of samples of retail milk for MAP. It was passed on to the Johne's disease Committee.

  • Diseased cows in the human food chain: No concern was expressed by the NJWG that cull cows infected with M. paratuberculosis are routinely sent to slaughter be sold for human consumption.

Meeting of the Food Safety Committee of the USAHA

On Monday October 5th, Alan Kennedy again presented his paper: MAP in food: The case for retail testing. In this committee, his presentation was very well received. Several attendees asked thoughtful questions and many came up to him afterwards to compliment him on his presentation. Dr. Irene Wesley, a researcher with USDA/ARS, who herself had given an excellent presentation on Campylobacter, complimented Alan on his paper. It was a dramatically different reception that the hostility shown by the Co-chair at the NJWG.

Meeting of the Johne's disease Committee of the USAHA

PARA Board members Steve Merkel, Alan Kennedy and Cheryl Miller at the Johne's Disease Committee
Photo: PARA Board members Steve Merkel, Alan Kennedy and Cheryl Miller at the Johne's Disease Committee.

The meeting of the Johne's Disease Committee was held on Tuesday October 6th. The committee actions of interest to PARA were two resolutions introduced by Michael Collins DVM, of the University of Wisconsin. They are as follows:


  • Background: It is a well-established fact that M. paratuberculosis is excreted in the milk of infected cattle. There is scientific uncertainty whether pasteurization will reliably kill these bacteria, however, reports from the U.K. indicate it can occur in retail pasteurized milk. The rate of contamination of U.S. retail milk supplies, if any, is important.

  • Resolution: USAHA urges USDA to fund multiple independent investigations, by laboratories experienced in cultivation of M. paratuberculosis using the most sensitive detection methods possible, to determine if live M. paratuberculosis can be detected in retail milk.

There was lively debate on this resolution, with Dr. Collins defending it and John Adams quite vocal in his opposition to the whole notion of retail milk testing. Typical comments:

  • Dr. Collins: "If we vote against this resolution, the consumer could interpret it as a cover-up."

  • Unknown: "If we vote in favor of this resolution and the consumer finds out we're testing milk, they might panic and assume something is wrong with milk."

  • John Adams: "The FDA has already stated their position. They are confident that pasteurized milk is safe. We don't need to test retail milk."

  • Steve Merkel: "With all due respect, sir, if milk is as safe as you say it is, then retail testing will simply confirm that fact. Are you afraid of retail milk testing because you are afraid of what you might find?"

Conclusion: This resolution was voted down by an overwhelming majority.


  • Background: MAP causes a generalized bacterial infection, i.e. one not restricted to the intestinal tract. Several surveys have shown that 5 to 10% of cattle used for ground beef production are infected with M. paratuberculosis. The ability of cooking temperatures to kill the organism in meat products is not known. Although the consequences of human exposure to M. paratuberculosis are not yet known, it is vital to understand the rate or likelihood that this bacterium can be found in raw ground beef.

  • Resolution: USAHA requests that USDA fund independent, extramural research to evaluate the rate of occurrence of M. paratuberculosis in ground beef and the rate of killing of M. paratuberculosis in ground beef when exposed to cooking temperatures or irradiation.

When this resolution was opened for discussion there was little opposition voiced. John Adams said nothing. But when it came to a vote, the "Aye's" were a little stronger than the "Nay's", and the chair ruled that the resolution was passed.

BUT: The case of the missing resolution: Somewhere between the Johne's committee and release by the USAHA, this resolution was rescinded, i.e. although it was passed in open committee, it was voted down behind closed doors. So the USAHA is now on record as deliberately choosing ignorance about the presence of MAP in food products for human consumption.


The last speaker at the Johne's Disease Committee meeting was Paul Strandberg, Assistant Attorney General, State of Minnesota. He warned the committee that if they chose to be less than forthright about the possible link between milk and beef and Crohn's disease, they could wind up on "60 Minutes" in the middle of a media circus. He advised them to take heed of what happened to the beef industry in the UK following the BSE debacle, and to apples with the Alar scare.


Did PARA make headway at the USAHA meeting? Here's what one researcher said: "You might be discouraged because your milk testing resolution didn't pass. But so many other very important resolutions did pass! You folks have made an INCREDIBLE difference in what has been in the past a 'do-nothing' group!"

For further information contact

ContactKaren Meyer
Executive Director, Paratuberculosis Awareness and Research Association, Inc.

Paratuberculosis Awareness and Research Association, Inc.

is a non-profit organization of Crohn's disease patients, their families and friends who are dedicated to the following goals:
  1. To raise awareness of the zoonotic (disease-causing) potential of the bacterium, MAP, in the national community of sufferers of Crohn's disease, in medical, veterinary and food science research communities, in governmental agencies and in the public in general
  2. To urge governmental agencies to directly address control and eventual eradication of MAP from the human environment, particularly from foods of animal origin
  3. To urge governmental and medical research agencies to make funding available for research which will determine the role played by MAP in causing Crohn's disease

Paratuberculosis Awareness and Research Association, Inc.
Box 16219
Temple Terrace, FL 33687-6219

Source:   Contact PARA:
Paratuberculosis Awareness & Research Association