The following is a transcript of

InfOhio after Nine

As broadcast by: WCPN Ohio on 30th March 2000

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Presenter

The health concerns of some Ohioans have led to an investigation into the potential danger that may lurk in a simple glass of milk. Several researchers have tried to make the case that a particularly nasty malady called Crohn's disease is transferred to commercial milk via cows infected with a similar disease. Milk producers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have generally dismissed this link, claiming that the pasteurization process would eliminate any sorts of disease transfer. Well, the tale of this medical debate, and the Ohio activists who are a part of it, was first told last June by writer Lisa Chamberlain in a cover story for the Cleveland FreeTimes. And now that report has been named one of the top 25 stories of last year by an organization called "Project Censored". The goal of this group is to highlight stories that the mainstream news media have not covered. Lisa Chamberlain is presently the Editor-in-chief of the FreeTimes and she joins us in Studio B. Thanks for dropping by.

Lisa Chamberlain

It's a pleasure to be here.

Presenter

Now this is a very complicated story. Let's start off with how you first came to know about it.

Lisa Chamberlain

I first learned about this story when I was working for Congressman Dennis Kucinich and I was his health aide, among covering other issues for him. And, one of his constituents came into the office, armed with folders of material, information that had to do with this disease, Crohn's disease, which is a gastrointestinal disorder, for which there is no known cure.

Presenter

This is also a very unpleasant story due to the symptoms. Can we talk about that a little bit?

Lisa Chamberlain

Yes, it is a very debilitating disease, the symptoms are very unpleasant and so a lot of times you don't know .... a lot of listeners probably know people who have Crohn's disease and don't know it because they don't talk about it. Excessive diarrhea, severe weight loss, a lot of time surgery is needed to remove parts of the intestine .... it's a very serious disease.

Presenter

And the scientists whose research you cite have indicated that they have had a hard time getting the funding to prove their point.

Lisa Chamberlain

That's right. For probably two decades now, scientists have been looking into this link between this bacteria that infects cows and the milk products that we get from them. They've been researching this for, like I said, about two decades, and have been unable to secure the necessary funding to see, you know, if this theory has legs.

Presenter

The scientists that you cite would argue that the pasteurization process does not deal with this disease.

Lisa Chamberlain

What they would say is that there is enough evidence to warrant concern, because these are very credible scientists, they're not going to make blanket statements. Science is, always falls within a grey area, very rarely is it ever black and white. What they say is is that there is enough evidence to cause concern and that they think that the retail milk supply in the United States should be tested for this bacteria. That test has never been conducted here.

Presenter

But the USDA doesn't seem to be convinced. Wouldn't they have a vested interest into investigating such a thing?

Lisa Chamberlain

Well, the USDA has, I think, what the critics say is they have conflicting roles. The two they .... one role is to actually promote the dairy industry. The other is to regulate it, and those two roles come into conflict. And when you have uncertainty, I think they err on the site of caution. So, one would say "well, wouldn't erring on the site of caution be to then test it"? Well, once you, kind of, go there you open up a whole can of worms that maybe they're not prepared to deal with.

Presenter

Was this a difficult story for you to research?

Lisa Chamberlain

It was very difficult. I never experienced writer's block like I did doing this story. It's very complicated.

Presenter

First of all, did you have to back to basic high school biology? Did you even understand what's going on?

Lisa Chamberlain

Right. And I spent a lot of time trying to understand the science behind it. But I think the most important thing is to look at the basic theory behind the .... the logic behind the theory, which is: There is a bacteria that cows get. It causes a disease in cows that very much like Crohn's disease in humans. That bacteria is shed live in their milk. So it follows that perhaps humans can contract the same disease via this bacteria through the milk.

Presenter

It follows if you buy the argument that pasteurization doesn't do anything to it. The government folks and the dairy farmer folks say "No, wait a minute, this is foolproof". In fact, one of the guys you quoted in there said "No, there's no way it could get past .. that". Who do you believe?

Lisa Chamberlain

Well, right. Who do you believe and where ..... I think one of the biggest questions is where is the line of terms of alarming the public unnecessarily and making the public aware of a possible risk. Where is that line, and so far the government and the dairy industry have come down on the side of .. that it would alarm the public unnecessarily at this point. Crohn's disease activists, and particularly the organization that this gentleman that came into Dennis Kucinich's office, him and the researchers believe it is to the point now where the public should be made aware of this possible risk, that that line has been crossed, that there is enough research to say the public should be made aware of this.

Presenter

Lisa Chamberlain is the Editor-in-chief for the Cleveland FreeTimes, and is the author of Lactose Intolerant, which has just been cited as one of the top 25 stories of 1999 by the group known as "Project Censored". Thank you for joining us.

Lisa Chamberlain

Thank you.