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Sunday, 2 April, 2000, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Minister declares milk 'safe'
A cow
The bacteria is linked to cows' milk
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has dismissed research linking Britain's milk supplies to a disabling bowel disease.

Ministry of Agriculture-funded scientists at Queen's University, Belfast, said bacteria suspected of causing or contributing to Crohn's disease had been found in 3% of pasteurised milk samples tested.

But, speaking on BBC1's On The Record programme, Mr Brown insisted it was still safe to drink.

"I drink pasteurised milk and it is safe to do so."

He added that the mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP) occurred "worldwide" and should, theoretically, be neutralised by bacteria.
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown
Nick Brown: Drinks plenty of milk
But he admitted some scientists were split over the view that certain bacteria "may get through" the pasteurisation process.

He added that scientific advice to the government "does not tell us that is the case".

"There is a research programme under way now and we have also conducted our own experiments," he added.

The direct link between the disabling gut condition and the paratuberculosis bacterium has yet to be proved.

Research demands

But the discovery that the bug has the ability to survive milk processing is likely to provoke calls to research the issue.

Crohn's disease causes chronic inflammation of the bowel, and affects between 40,000 and 60,000 people in the UK.

Professor John Hermon-Taylor, head of surgery at St George's Hospital in London, believes the bacterium can be linked to both Crohn's disease and an almost identical condition in cattle.

He says studies have found traces of the bacteria in the bowel lining of patients with Crohn's.

"Seven out of 10 studies looking at this problem, using the latest genetic fingerprinting techniques, find a significant association between the MAP strain found in cattle and Crohn's disease," he said.

However, Richard Driscoll, director of the National Association for Crohn's and Colitis, said that the link between the bacteria and the illness was not yet fully proven, despite all the evidence.

However, he said that the new evidence meant further research would be needed.

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See also:

12 Jul 99 | Health
Breast milk studied for toxins
31 Aug 99 | Health
Cows' milk 'as good as formula'
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