TB Bacteria Found
In Pasteurized Milk
By Lois Rogers - Medical Correspondent
The Sunday Times
Government scientists have produced evidence that a form of tuberculosis bacteria is present in Britain's pasteurised milk supply.
Early results from a survey of 1,000 pasteurised milk samples, destined for supermarkets and doorstep delivery, showed that four out of 129 samples so far analysed were contaminated with the germ.
Results from tests for nine other disease-causing bacteria have been withheld. The dairies that provided the milk, all mainstream commercial suppliers, have been given anonymity.
The discovery has led to renewed concern over pasteurisation and the possible dangers from milk. Latest figures from the Public Health Laboratory Service show that more than 420 people have developed food poisoning from pasteurised milk since 1992.
Many of the victims have been children. One died and others received hospital treatment for kidney damage, which could mean they will need organ transplants.
A spokeswoman for the service said the figure was probably a small fraction of the real number of victims because people were more likely to blame foods such as chicken or eggs for their condition.
The bacterium so far identified in the study by the agriculture ministry is mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (Map), which is suspected of causing Britain's 80,000 cases of Crohn's disease, a disorder that involves chronic inflammation of the intestines.
John Hermon-Taylor, of St George's medical school in London, who likens the effect of Map to leprosy of the gut, said there was an urgent need for more research into the condition and stricter controls on pasteurisation.
Standard pasteurisation until the 1960s involved heating milk to 63C and maintaining it at that temperature for 30 minutes. The method was superseded by a high-temperature short-time technique, where milk is heated to 72C for 15 seconds. Some of the big milk processors are said to have increased the time to 25 seconds because of the Map scare, but Hermon-Taylor believes this is not long enough.
"Wild strains of Map are very resistant," he said. "Mass milk production has created the conditions that have favoured these bugs."
The last serious outbreak of food poisoning involving pasteurised milk affected 111 people in Cockermouth, Cumbria, last year. A number of children had to be admitted to hospital, including 11-year-old Joseph Tiffin, who spent a week at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
His father, Stuart, received confirmation from the hospital last week that his son's kidneys had not sustained permanent damage. "When it happened we thought we would lose Joseph," Tiffin said. "It has taken a year, but we are so relieved finally to get the all-clear."
In one of the previous outbreaks, which affected 60 people in 1994, 18-month-old Claire Davison from Bathgate, West Lothian, died and Michael Reilly, aged three, needed a kidney transplant.
Hugh Pennington, professor of microbiology at Aberdeen University, helped to advise on the source of the manure-related E-coli 0157 bacteria which had contaminated the milk in both outbreaks.
"There have been enough problems with milk in recent years to show there is an issue here," he said. "Most of the time farmers will get away with dirty milk, but when things go wrong it can be disastrous."
Fragmentation of the dairy industry - since privatisation in 1994 disbanded the Milk Marketing Board - has meant that milk processors do not reveal details of problems.
The Milk Development Council charges farmers 0.04p per litre to pay for its research on milk marketing, but it does not investigate safety or levels of diseases such as mastitis, which causes dead cells from pus residue to pass into milk.
Farmers receive a bonus for producing cleaner milk and the National Dairy Council, which represents the processors, said most milk was well within European safety limits for total bacteria and dead cell counts.
The survey is due to be completed by the end of this year.


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