New Health Scare Over
Milk Bacteria And
Crohn's Disease
The government is launching a nationwide survey into milk quality following fears that it could be carrying a bacteria linked to Crohn's Disease.
Experts from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) will spend 18 months investigating at least 1,000 samples of all types of milk for the bacteria mycobacterium paratuberculosis.
The bacteria causes Johne's disease, a disorder in cattle across the world.
But it is one of several factors that have been suggested as causing Crohn's disease, a chronic intestine inflammation which can in some cases lead to tumours.
There are around 80,000 sufferers of Crohn's Disease in the UK. It leads to major inflamation in the small intestine. Three quarters of sufferers eventually need surgery. The cause is still unknown.
Previous research suggested that pasteurisation should destroy the organism.
But despite the review of milk safety, prompted by a request from the government's own Advisory Committee for the Microbiological Safety of Food, officials stressed there is no evidence to suggest that people should stop drinking it.
Unconfirmed scientific reports that the bacteria could exist in a lesser form in milk after treatment had prompted the extensive investigation, officials said.
A spokesman for the MAFF said: "The Advisory Committee has examined the issue on a number of occasions and have advised that as yet there is no evidence of a public health problem.
"But it would nevertheless be prudent to conduct further research and to keep the evidence under review."
The spokesman added that the ministry had also asked the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens to go back over its last report into links between the organism and Crohn's disease.
"Their previous conclusion was that a link could neither be proved or disproved on the available evidence," he said.
The MAFF has already launched one investigation into the organism after reports that it could be transmitted from infected animals to humans.
BSE fears
The announcement comes as the government continues to deal with the aftermath of the beef ban after the cattle disease BSE was linked to the human brain disease CJD.
But Dr Norman Simmonds, a member of the Advisory Committee for the Microbiological Safety of Food Safety, said that the government was trying to inform people at the earliest stage to avoid a rerun of the BSE debacle which led to UK beef being banned by the European Union.
He said: "We are telling people at the very earliest stage exactly what the position is.
"We have an organism, we don't know whether it causes disease or not.
"We have found it survives in pasteurised milk in a small number of samples."
Dr Simmonds said that people should continue drinking milk.
"It probably isn't very dangerous, at best, it is not dangerous at all," he said.
"The government is trying to be honest with the consumer.
"If (the risk) is concealed the government will be accused of hiding (the facts)."