Tesco has confirmed that it has no immediate plans to clamp down on Irish dairy herds that are positive for Johnes despite claims that the disease poses risks to humans.
The retailer has already delisted British milk suppliers that failed to implement new protocols to minimise the risk of the disease spreading on their farms.
The moves follow increasing numbers of international experts and studies linking Johnes disease with its human equivalent, Crohn’s.
Crohn’s expert Professor John Hermon-Taylor has stated that he was “absolutely certain” that some strains of Johnes cause Crohn’s disease in susceptible people. “Since MAP is known to be a primary specific cause of chronic inflammation of the intestine in many different species, including primates, it would be remarkable if it did not cause disease in humans,” he said.
However, Animal Health Ireland (AHI) pointed to a Food Safety Authority finding in 2009 that there was no evidence of a “causal relationship” between Johnes and Crohn’s disease.
It added that there were no plans for a compulsory eradication scheme to tackle the disease, despite 20.6pc of Irish dairy herds testing positive for the disease in 2005. Johnes disease prevalence amongst dairy herds participating in AHI’s Pilot Programme in 2013 and 2014 ranged from 23-34pc.
Tesco said that Ireland’s dairy industry was not comparable with Britain.
“There is currently no Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group (TSDG) in Ireland, and we currently have no plans to introduce this model, although we are always open to discussing the principles of it with our suppliers,” it said in a statement to the Farming Independent.
It added that there was “no proven link of any risk to human health from Johnes disease in dairy animals and milk.”
Tesco Ireland sources milk from three dairy companies including Glanbia, Aurivo and Arrabawn.
A spokesman for Glanbia said that dairy herd health was “a key aspect of Glanbia’s overall milk supplier programme and milk purchasing policy”.
“The Glanbia veterinary staff led by Shane McElroy and the on-farm support team assist our farmers to follow the highest national and international industry standards,” he added. ICMSA president John Comer said that Johnes was “very complex”.
“ICMSA believes that the best approach at this time is a strong communications campaign aimed at farmers in relation to control issues. Irish milk is regarded as being amongst the best in the world and meets all EU regulatory standards, and the incidence of Johnes is extremely low — actually amongst the lowest in Europe,” he said.
Farmers Weekly reported that Prof Robert Smith, of Tesco’s Sustainable Dairy Group, said every UK supplier is required to have a control programme. “We have removed farmers who didn’t want to test from the pool. Compliance is expected,” Prof Smith told a recent conference on the topic.
“We have now reached the point where all milk sold by Tesco is Johnes tested. We want to get to a situation where all herds are safe to buy from.”
A spokesperson for Tesco claimed that Prof Smith was referring to farmers being able to “safely buy stock replacements from herds that have a low incidence of Johnes disease because of the animal health and welfare issues that can arise from the disease in dairy animals”.