Sunday May 21 2006
Mortality in sheep, goat after grazing on Bt cotton fields
Nearly 1,500 deaths occurred in three months
The NGO has raised questions about the bio-safety impact
A.P has banned the Monsanto-Mahyco variety
By Gargi Parsai
NEW DELHI: Mystery surrounds the death of 25 per cent of sheep and goats after open grazing on Bt cotton fields in 11 villages of Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh. According to the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, an NGO, in the four villages visited by them Ippagudem, Valeru, Unkucherla and Maadipalli nearly 1,500 deaths have occurred in three months.
The Union Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying under the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed to The Hindu "reports of sporadic mortality in sheep and goats during the months of January to March" from Warangal.
Animal Husbandry Commissioner S.K. Bandopadhyaya said, "Some mortality in sheep and goats with toxaemia symptoms has been reported from Warangal. Whether the deaths were because of bacterial toxaemia or pesticide or whether the transgenic leaves were toxic to the sheep and goats needs further investigation. The viscera of the dead animals have been sent to the university for examination and further investigations are on."
According to G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the centre and former agriculture scientist from the Indian Council of Agriculture Research, "The post-mortem conducted on the animals had shown they died of toxic symptoms. Black patches were found on the intestine and liver was infected. No protozoan, viral, bacterial or fungal infection was found in the dead sheep and goats."
Bio safety tests
After two days of open grazing, the sheep and goats became dull and depressed. They suffered from cough with nasal discharge, reddish and erosive lesions in the mouth and got bloated. The affected animals died within five to seven days of grazing on Bt cotton plants.
The NGO has raised questions about the bio safety impact of Bt cotton on sheep and goats. According to Dr. Ramanjaneyulu, Monsanto-Mahyco had conducted bio safety tests on goats but not on sheep and their tests have been with Bt cottonseed not with green leaves and pods and with open grazing.
He said because of the shift from traditional to commercial crops in cotton and chillies in the region, green fodder lands were getting scarce. Farmers who grow Bt cotton hire out their harvested fields to shepherds for the animals to feed on harvested plants. The Bt toxin is active in green leaves and suspected to be one of the causes of death in these animals. The combined effect with pesticides is also being investigated. The same pesticide used on non-Bt plants, however, did not show mortality, he said.
The Andhra Pradesh government has banned the Monsanto-Mahyco variety of Bt cotton seeds, but the company has leased out Bt technology to domestic companies like Rasi and Nuziveedu seeds which are cultivated in the State. Dr Ramanjaneyulu said one of the major worries was that with the drop in the price of Bt seeds, more area may come under this variety. "But are we clear about what we are using?"
When contacted, Monsanto said a 90-day goat feeding study was conducted by Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow, in 1998. The study concluded Bt cottonseed (not leaves and pods) was as wholesome and safe for animal feed as non-Bt cottonseed.
The U.S. seed company further said that Bt protein was present in minuscule amounts in cotton leaves and was so specific in its action that it does not even damage insects other than its target, the cotton bollworm. "If such animal deaths are indeed occurring, there are a variety of potential causes, such as exposure to pesticide residues - high levels of organophosphorus compounds and carbamates (residues from insecticidal sprays)."