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Johne's Disease in Canada

The Canadian dairy industry is the third largest agricultural sector in Canada and a 4-billion-dollar-a-year business.  And just as is happening worldwide, the rate of Johne's disease infection in Canada is rising at an alarming rate. 

On September 5, 2001, a newscast from a major Canadian News Station CTV, reported that:  "The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has been monitoring Johne's disease for years.  In its most recent study, obtained by CTV News, the number of infected dairy herds had risen.  In Ontario, over 47 per cent of herds had at least one animal test positive for Johne's disease. And in the Maritimes, the numbers were worse: Over 51 per cent of herds in P.E.I. had the disease, 62 per cent in New Brunswick, 72 per cent in Nova Scotia."

The Johne's problem is a real economic threat to Canada, given its relationship as a net exporter of beef is maintained via a continued access to international markets, especially the United States which purchases 85% of Canada's beef exports and more than 99% of its live cattle exports. 

What is Canada Doing to Control Johne's Disease?

A voluntary, nationwide program to identify and control Johne's in dairy and beef cattle could be in place by 2003.  The Canadian Animal Health Coalition's working committee for Johne's disease approved final details of the control program proposal recently in Winnipeg.  The program likely will be launched in mid-2003.  

An article by Frances Anderson entitled "Voluntary Johne's Control Coming", appeared in the Ontario Dairy Farmer magazine on December 3, 2002. 

According to the article, the program will be national because the country's Johne's status affects livestock exports, and because of the ease of administration. The United States, Australia and the Netherlands all have national voluntary plans and Japan is considering excluding all imports from countries without a national Johne's control plan.

The Canadian proposal has three components: promoting producer awareness of best management practices, herd testing for Johne's, and disease control and reduction.  The committee is looking for $165,000 in startup funding for dairy and beef groups to launch the program, as well as $20,000 in annual maintenance costs. The industry proposes to share costs equally with the government.

According to the article, there's little discussion of making Johne's disease reportable to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  CFAI Veterinarian is quoted: 

"The main reason it's not reportable is that the link to human health has not been clearly established.  Our organization basically represents animal health concerns.  A number of years ago, we had a voluntary Johne's control program, but the industry chose not [to] become involved." 

Clark attributes the cattle industry's current initiative to introduce a voluntary Johne's control program to worldwide concerns about the human health link with Crohn's.

Crohn's Disease in Canada

In the Spring of 2000, Dr. Charles Bernstein, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of the University of Manitoba IBD Clinical and Research Centre, and Dr. James Blanchard, Provincial Epidemiologist for Manitoba Health and Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba, conducted a study entitled:  Epidemiology of Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis in a Central Canadian Province:  A Population-Based Study to assess the rate of IBD in Manitoba. 

That study revealed that in Manitoba there are close to 200 cases of Crohn's disease per 100,000 inhabitants.  This prevalence rate is higher than any rate previously known anywhere in the world. 

"I don't think Manitoba is the single hotbed of Crohn's in Canada," Dr. Bernstein said.  "It's just that we have the most up-to-date data to be reported."  In their report in the American Journal of Epidemiology (Vol 149, No. 10, 1999), the researchers concluded that the numbers are high enough to suggest the presence of some environmental factor(s) in Manitoba that contributes to the disease.

Could this "environmental factor" be MAP?

Ottawa Symposium Addresses the issue of Crohn's and MAP

On Tuesday, October 8, 2002, the Centre for Research on Environmental Microbiology (CREM) held the first symposium in a series to be presented by CREM.  The symposium entitled "MAP and Crohn's Disease:  Is There Evidence For Causation?" presented the latest evidence on the involvement of MAP in Crohn's Disease.

The Director of CREM, Dr. Syed A. Sattar, was present throughout the entire meeting.  Professor John Hermon-Taylor (Chairman, Department of Surgery, St. George's Hospital Medical School, London, England) summarized his latest findings.  Dr. Roger Pickup (Centre of Ecology and Hydrology, Cumbria, UK) explored the environmental linkages and discussed the results of core sample testing of some Welsh rivers.

Dr. Behr (TB specialist at McGill University) gave a Canadian perspective on Crohn's and its similarities to TB and discussed the similarities and differences between M. paratuberculosis and its close cousin M. tuberculosis  Dr. Bill Cameron (University of Ottawa) wrapped up the symposium with an excellent talk on the causation in diseases of unknown etiology. 

During his brief visit, Professor John Hermon-Taylor also addressed Health Canada at their request, and spoke at Guelph University, which has the largest Veterinary School in Canada.

Canadian Researchers Find MAP in Retail Milk Samples

Canadian researchers at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, have found in laboratory studies that MAP can survive pasteurization if present in high numbers.  A total of 710 retail milk samples were collected from retail stores and dairy plants in Southwest Ontario and were tested for the presence of MAP.   

RESULTS:  Dead MAP was detected in 15% of milk samples but no live MAP was recovered.  (J. Dairy Sci 2002 Dec; 85(12):3198-205).   As stated in the abstract: 

"The lack of recovery of live MAP from the retail milk samples tested may be due to either the absence of live MAP in the retail milk samples tested or the presence of low number of viable MAP which were undetected by the culture method used in this study...It is possible that the culture methods used were not sensitive enough to recover low levels of Mptb. "

(For in-depth information about MAP in dairy products, visit PARA's website section entitled, "MAP in Food:  Dairy Products.)

What Industry Knows They Should Be Doing But Are Not!

Before discussing Health Canada's role in this issue, it may be insightful to first read two statements made by a high-ranking dairy official and quoted in "Voluntary Johne's Control Coming", an article written by Frances Anderson for the December 3, 2002 issue of the Ontario Dairy Farmer magazine.  These statements were by Gord Coukell, Chairman of the Dairy Farmers of Ontario

"One of the things that's not well recognized is that animals testing positive for Johne's should be sent to the renderers."

"We may have trouble killing it [MAP] in water, so it's better to rely on prevention than deal with it after the fact."

In light of Mr. Coukell's statement that "animals testing positive for Johne's should be sent to renderers," we can only ask, then: 

Why isn't that happening? 

This is a very, very incriminating statement for a high-ranking dairy official to make, and it's an indictment on the Canadian cattle industry, the U.S. cattle industry and indeed all cattle industries of the world. 

* * * * * * * *

PARA wholeheartedly agrees with Mr. Coukell's second statement:  "It's better to rely on prevention than deal with it after the fact."  Additionally, we can assure Mr. Coukell as well as all cattle industry leaders and Government officials: 

 Crohn's patients would have preferred prevention of their debilitating disease.  Unfortunately, they have had no choice in the matter.

Health Canada's Role

Health Canada is the Canadian Agency responsible for human health.  The following quote is from their website:  A Canadian Perspective on the Precautionary Approach/Principle

"Towards the beginning of 2000, the Government began work on a federal initiative to discuss the application of the precautionary approach/principle in science-based regulatory programs. This initiative is in line with the Government's objective of strengthening risk management practices across the federal public service."

"The precautionary approach / precautionary principle is distinctive within science-based risk management. It recognizes that the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to postpone decisions when faced with the threat of serious or irreversible harm. However, guidance and assurance are required as to the conditions governing the decisions that will be made. Guidance and assurance are particularly needed when a decision must be made regarding a risk of serious or irreversible harm about which there is significant scientific uncertainty. The precautionary approach / precautionary principle primarily affects the development of options and the decision phases, and is ultimately guided by judgment, based on values and priorities. Indeed, Canada has a long-standing history of implementing the precautionary approach in science-based programs of health and safety, environmental protection and natural resources conservation."

CTV News requested information from Health Canada on studies the department has done linking Crohn's and Johne's.  In a September 2001 report entitled "Researchers Link Cow's Milk to Crohn's Disease," CTV News states: 

"So far, there has been no reply.  But sources inside Health Canada tell CTV News it's never been studied." 

* * * * * * * * *

PARA would urge Health Canada to exert the precautionary principle at once, and to indeed adhere to its own statement: 

  "The absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to postpone decisions when faced with the threat of serious or irreversible harm."

* * * * * * * * *

Note:  We would encourage reading of an excellent essay entitled "Crohn's and the Precautionary Principle:  A Perception of Risk" by Nicole Frechette-Walrafen.  Nicole is a Canadian member and also has a son who suffers from Crohn's disease. 

MAP-Canada, a Canadian Grassroots Group - Join Them!

The Canadian Movement Against Paratuberculosis or MAP-Canada is a grassroots movement made up of and operated by Canadian patients with Crohn's disease, their families and friends.  They are reaching out to all Canadians who are alarmed by the uncontrolled spread of MAP in the environment, as well as the growing evidence linking it to Crohn's.  The mission of MAP-Canada is "the complete eradication of MAP in the Canadian food chain and conclusive determination of its role in the cause of the disease."

MAP-Canada was founded in September 2001 by Diane and Michael Fagen.  Realizing that PARA of necessity is primarily focused on U.S. policies and actions since it is U.S. - based, these individuals purposed to create a sister organization in Canada to lobby Canadian officials and leaders on this issue.  We applaud their efforts and encourage them to continue their important work!

We would encourage you to visit their website at:


News in Canada

The following list includes news items and important events that have taken place in Canada:

Never In My Milk?
Article by Marie france Coutu,
published in La Presse of Montreal April 8th, 2001

Researchers Link Cow's Milk to Crohn's Disease
CTV News Report, 09/05/2001

Strange Bedfellows: Infection and Chronic Disease, May 2000 (pdf file) Canadian Public Health Association (Canadian Gov)
Direction: (use Bookmarks): section "Gastrointestinal Panel"; sub-section "Is There a Microbial Etiology..." 

Researchers Measure Rate of Crohn's and Colitits in Manitoba
Drs. C Bernstein; Blanshard J
The Journal, CCFC
, Spring 2000

Intestinal Permeability Higher in some Spouse of Crohn's Patients
The Journal, CCFC, Winter 2001
University of Calgary Research

Johne's Disease: A Cloud on the Horizon
by Dr Gerald W. Ollis
Animal Industry Division, Alberta Agriculture Food & Rural Development

Research Investment / Project Areas with Research as a Priority
Authors: Health Canada Food Safety

Johne's Disease in Alberta: Beef and Dairy Cattle
Alberta's Johne's Control Program
Scroll to section Why is it Important to Control Johne's, sub-section Potential Losses

Food Safety Division Highlights - Animal Health Forum, Dec 2000, Vol 5,
Issue 4 - Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Dev
Scroll to Paragraph:  Other Foodborne Pathogens/Food Safety Issues 
by: Annette Visser and Andrijana Rajic, Food Safety Division, Edmonton

Possible Links Between Crohn's Disease and Paratuberculosis
Report of the Scientific Committee On Animal Health And Animal Welfare
Alberta Cattle Feeders' Association

(Please revisit this page for more Canadian updates)

Source:   Contact PARA:
Paratuberculosis Awareness & Research Association, 1999-2003.