The Food Standards Agency is to hold a conference of science and industry experts to look at ways to stop a bacterium in milk, which could be linked to Crohn's Disease, from entering the human food chain.

Recent research commissioned by the Agency has shown that Mycobacterium paratuberculosis (MAP) can survive pasteurisation. And some scientists believe there is a possible, but so far unproven, link between MAP in the food chain and Crohn's Disease in humans.

Having examined the evidence, independent scientific experts do not recommend that there should be any change in the Government's advice on milk consumption.

But they are concerned that there might be a link between MAP and Crohn's Disease. Therefore, they have recommended that the Agency set up a group to look at ways to prevent the bacterium from entering the food chain, taking into account consumer concerns such as the risk of exposure in children.

Acting on the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Sir John Krebs, said:
"We have received advice from the ACMSF. On the basis that the risk to human health has not been proven, the Committee did not recommend any change in the current advice regarding the consumption of milk
"But, we note their concern that ways of reducing exposure to MAP should be actively explored. We, therefore, intend to convene a conference to review possible controls at all stages of the food chain.
"The Food Standards Agency was set up to represent consumers and it is our job to ensure that while research into any possible link continues, we should do all we can to reduce human exposure to the bacterium."

NOTES TO EDITORS

The above findings were part of a national survey commissioned by the Food Standards Agency to look at the microbiological quality of milk. The research started in March 1999 and finished in August 2000.

The research into MAP in milk was carried out at the Queen's University, Belfast. The findings of this research were presented to the Food Standards Agency's Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food at its quarterly meeting on 19 September. Further results from the survey looking at other aspects of the microbiological quality of milk will be presented to the Committee when testing and analysis are complete.The action plan follows advice from the Agency's Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF).

The Details of the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food's meeting on 19 September, and the latest research findings are on the Food Standards Agency website: www.foodstandards.gov.uk

Preliminary results from a survey commissioned by the Agency found MAP present in 1.9% of raw milk samples and 2.1% of pasteurised milk samples. A variety of pasteurisation times and temperatures, including extended times up to 25 seconds, were used. The legal minimum requirement for pasteurisation is 15 seconds at 72 degrees C.

The ten samples of pasteurised milk found to contain the bacterium came from eight different dairies situated throughout the UK and ranging in size from small to very large. All the participating dairies took part on a voluntary basis.

MAP is the cause of Johne's Disease in cud chewing animals. The Food Standards Agency wants to look at possibilities for controlling Johne's Disease to prevent MAP from entering the human food chain in light of the scientific evidence that it can survive pasteurisation.