USDA:- United States
Department of Agriculture


Governed byExecutive Branch of the Government of the United States
Mission Statement"Enhance the quality of life for the American people by supporting production of agriculture; ensuring a safe, affordable, nutritious, and accessible food supply; caring for agricultural, forest, and range lands; supporting sound development of rural communities; providing economic opportunities for farm and rural residents; expanding global markets for agricultural and forest products and services; and working to reduce hunger in America and throughout the world."
SecretaryAnn M. Veneman
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Through inspection and grading, the U.S. Department of Agriculture enforces standards for wholesomeness and quality of meat, poultry and eggs produced in the United States. USDA food safety activities include inspecting poultry, eggs, and domestic and imported meat; inspecting livestock and production plants; and making quality (grading) inspections for grain, fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry and dairy products (including Brie and other cheeses). USDA's education programs target family nutritional needs, food safety and expanding scientific knowledge. The department supports education with grants in food and agricultural sciences and conducts its own and cooperative food research.

Leadership is provided by Ann M. Veneman, Secretary of Agriculture. Former Secretary Glickman in a statement regarding food safety said, "My most fundamental responsibility as Secretary of Agriculture is ensuring that American families have the safest meat and poultry possible...When I was sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture - after my mother expressed her pride - she gave one instruction: 'Make sure the food is safe.' I haven't been able to rest easy until I could assure my mother that I had done what she asked."

Paper TrailSee PARA's Paper TrailNew window link indicator for communications between PARA and various agencies of the U.S. Government.

Before proceeding further, we would encourage you to read the Important Developments Page prior to reading the rest of this webpage. This will give you some background which may be helpful in evaluating the action or inaction taken by USDA, and to assess PARA's Concerns in light of significant developments that have taken place around the world.



About the USDA

United States Department of Agriculture is the parent organization of agencies that are responsible for ensuring that meat is safe for the American consumer, and Secretary Veneman as head of the USDA bears ultimate responsibility for the actions of those agencies.

Falling under USDA jurisdiction are various agencies and programs.  Among those responsible for Johne's disease and MAP infection are:

  • Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
  • Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
  • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
  • National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (NRICGP)

Following is a discussion about each of these agencies, which includes information about the agency/program and PARA's Concerns about each:

Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).   The FSIS is a subordinate agency of USDA, and holds responsibility for ensuring the safety of the nation's beef supply. 

PARA's Concern:  As detailed on the dedicated FSIS page, the FSIS has only one method of testing for the presence of bacterial pathogens in beef, namely to test for the presence of the "marker organism" E. coli, another pathogenic bacterium that infects cattle and has adverse effects on human health. However, E. coli testing is only capable of detecting fecal contamination of meat, and is not capable of detecting intracellular and blood-borne extracellular pathogens, which persist inside bovine blood cells and in the infected cow's blood stream. MAP is an intracellular pathogen and blood-borne, and would be missed by E. coli-based fecal testing. 

Therefore, PARA's concern is that FSIS is failing completely to address the issue of MAP in retail beef.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS). ARS is the chief in-house scientific research agency for the USDAARS is charged with extending the Nation's scientific knowledge with research projects in agriculture, nutrition, technology, the environment and other topics that affect the American people on a daily basis.    

PARA's Concern:  In 1997 the ARS conducted a laboratory simulation of the milk pasteurization pasteurization process. As detailed on the dedicated ARS page, the research methodologies of that study have been extensively criticized by many other researchers, including specialists in Food Science, and is in disagreement with almost every other milk pasteurization study ever conducted. Research conducted by scientists with more experience in dealing with MAP and scientists who specialize in Food Microbiology have arrived at results that directly contradict the ARS simulation study.   Yet...

FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN)  who hold responsibility for safety of milk and dairy foods, has chosen to base its policy on milk safety for the American public on this much-questioned study.     (See PARA's dedicated CFSAN page for more details.) 

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) - The Animal and Plant Health inspection Service (APHIS) is responsible for protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, administering the Animal Welfare Act, and carrying out wildlife damage management activities.  The APHIS mission is an integral part of U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) efforts to provide the Nation with safe and affordable food.   APHIS' protection role includes wildlife damage management, the welfare of animals, human health and safety, and ecosystems vulnerable to invasive pests and pathogens.

With regard to Johne's disease, APHIS has conducted surveys to determine the rate of MAP infection in dairy and beef herds, and recently implemented a VOLUNTARY herd certification program.  These are discussed in further detail in the section below entitled "What's Being Done to Control MAP in the U.S.?"  

PARA's Concern:  APHIS is the USDA agency responsible for controlling Johne's disease in the U.S.  To date the USDA's attempts to control the rampant spread of Johne's disease are half-hearted, at best.  The current herd control program is voluntary and state-run, which means it's left to the individual states to decide which guidelines they will adopt, and whether they even want to participate!  This type of haphazard participation certainly does not demonstrate a will on the part of industry or government to protect the public.  If industry and the responsible agencies of government were truly concerned about the public health, extremely aggressive measures would be implemented.  

Certainly, Johne's herd control programs should be MANDATORY,  not voluntary!

National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (NRICGP). The NRICGP is a USDA grants program that supports extramural grants for plant and animal research. The NRICGP is the single most important source of research funding for researchers studying animal diseases like Johne's disease. However, between 1992 and 1996, the NRICGP granted $360,000 to MAP research, out of a total budget of $46,564,524, i.e. less than 0.8% of all animal disease research funding was spent on MAP, with a total of 3 out of 307 grants being funded.  

Also, In 1993 and 1994, the NRICGP rejected three times a proposal, submitted by R. J. Chiodini and J. Hermon-Taylor, which was designed to test the retail milk supply for the presence of M. paratuberculosis. The proposal was entitled "Prevalence of Mycobacterium Paratuberculosis in Retail Dairy Products". You can read the text of the Chiodini/Hermon-Taylor retail milk testing proposalNew window link indicator here. One of the reasons cited for the rejection of the Chiodini/Hermon-Taylor proposal was the researchers' inability to involve or otherwise consult with a food (dairy) microbiologist. Although many microbiologists offered their services to the proposing researchers, none would do so on an official basis. The proposal states why:  "The reasons for this refusal were universal - all had special interests (at least one of which was funding) with the dairy industry and felt their 'interests' could be jeopardized by collaboration."

PARA's Concern:  This gross shortfall in the amount of funding for MAP is almost unbelievable, and is certainly responsible for the lack of availability of reliable diagnostic tests and control methods for Johne's disease.  If funding had been provided to researchers over the last few years, then it is certain that new, more reliable, diagnostic procedures would now be available, as would more effective preventative measures.


The MAP Problem in the U.S.

MAP is endemic in the food animal herds of almost every developed country. According to the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) Dairy Study conducted by the USDA in 1996, in the United States, between 20% and 40% of dairy cattle herds are infected with MAP, resulting in economic losses of at least US$1.5 billion each and every year. 

Since MAP is not classified as a human pathogen, meat, milk and other products from animals infected with MAP may be continually entering the human food chain. There is a wealth of evidence which appears to indicate that MAP is capable of surviving the food processing methods that we employ to protect us from disease, such as cooking and pasteurization. This scientific evidence is thoroughly reviewed and discussed in the MAP in dairy products,  MAP in beef products, and Retail Testing sections of our website.  

(Please see the section entitled "The Paratuberculosis Problem" as well as  the Governments section of our website for detailed information about actions taking place in various countries throughout the world.)

What's Being Done to Control MAP in the U.S.?

Since the primary function of the USDA is to promote the interests of the U.S. agriculture industry, and is thus greatly influenced in its policy-making by the dairy and beef industries, there is an obvious conflict of interest when matters of public health are involved.  

With respect to MAP and Johne's disease, the measures that have been undertaken by the USDA are:

NAHMS Dairy Study - In 1996, the National Animal Health Monitoring Service, an APHIS program, conducted a national survey to assess dairy producer awareness of Johne's disease, estimate national and regional herd-level prevalence of MAP infection, estimate economic losses due to Johne's disease on dairy operations, and describe use of recommended preventative measures on U.S. dairy operations.  

Note - Results of a new USDA survey will be published in 2003 based on data collected in 2002.  With Johne's disease increasing at an alarming rate, undoubtedly the new figures will be higher, perhaps significantly higher, than those in 1996.

NAHMS Beef Study - In 1997, the National Animal Health Monitoring Service, an APHIS program, conducted a national survey to assess beef producer awareness of Johne's disease and estimate national and regional herd-level prevalence of MAP infection.

USDA Publishes Uniform Methods and Rules. In May 2002, USDA's APHIS published a document titled: Uniform Program Standards for the Voluntary Bovine Johne's Disease Control Program. This 28-page document provides standard definitions, methods and rules for states wanting to adopt a system for classifying herds based on the likelihood they are NOT infected (generically referred to as a herd certification program).

In July 2002, the U.S. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee approved $20,352,000 for the National Johne's Disease Management and Testing Program.   The money will be used for testing during the first year of the program. A provision in the original plan to pay producers fair market value for animals that test positive and are culled did not receive funding. 


Undoubtedly, PARA's efforts since 1997 have put governmental agencies and cattle industry leaders on notice that no longer could they look the other way and cover up what some industry insiders call "Johne's, the dirty secret."    PARA's attendance at all United States Animal Health Association meetings from 1997 to 2001 was extremely  important in creating awareness about Crohn's disease within that group.   (See PARA's dedicated United States Animal Health Association Page and National Johne's Working Group Page for full details about these meetings.)   

The USDA suffers from "CJD" - Conflicting Job Description - when it comes to making policies that affect human health.  Unfortunately, this "Conflicting Job Description" creates a situation where the proverbial fox is guarding the henhouse.  

Since Johne's is not only controllable, but preventable with the implementation of good husbandry practices, it is absolutely incredible that the cattle industry has ignored it for so long.    Now that it has reached epidemic levels in many areas of the world, including the U.S., getting control of the situation is more problematic in every aspect.  Unfortunately, cattle industry leaders have  been short-sighted in their interpretation of the ramifications for ignoring this disease.

Given the rampant spread of Johne's disease worldwide, consumers should be asking leaders of the cattle industry, government officials, food safety authorities, distributors of dairy/beef food products, and retail supermarkets/food chains that sell dairy/beef food products:  

 "What are you doing to protect us from exposure to MAP?"  

Sadly, what is being done is too little and too late, far too late for those suffering from Crohn's disease and far too late for those that are literally time bombs in terms of becoming symptomatic for its ravages.  

Action You Can Take

Please visit PARA's "How to Help" section to learn how you can get involved in creating awareness about this vital issue. 

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