CAUSES OF DEATH OF
CATTLE AND SHEEP IN THE TELENGANA REGION OF ANDHRA PRADESH IN
C Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education
Reports of cattle and sheep dying allegedly on consuming Bt cotton plants in the Warangal, Khammam and Adilabad Districts of the Telengana area of Andhra Pradesh (AP) in India (Deccan Herald, February 7, 2007; The Hindu, March 2, 2007; GM Watch, March 4, 2007; Hindustan Times, June 17, 2007; GM Watch, June 18, 2007; Hindustan Times, June 18, 2007), are a never dying story.
Cattle and sheep were
dying even before Bt cotton cultivation came into practice in Telengana. No one has so far
conclusively proved that Bt protein in the Bt cotton plants was
the real culprit. During our visit to the
The Hindu (March 2, 2007) reported that veterinary surgeons in the Telengana region were administering symptomatic treatment to farm animals that showed such symptoms as convulsions, nasal discharge, vomiting, diarrhea and respiratory problems. This is a pragmatic approach, since the 'culprit toxic substance is not identified’, but the long term mitigation of the problem lies in identifying the actual causes.
If cattle are reported to be dying on eating Bt cotton plants only in the Telengana region of AP, the causes are probably elsewhere, other than with the Bt gene.
Water stress, so common in Telengana, leads to the accumulation of a large number of chemical compounds in the drying cotton plants, Bt or non-Bt, such as resins, polyphenols such as gossypol and several others, which can be toxic when consumed in large quantities.
Recently, scientists from four public sector laboratories such as the AP Forensic Science Laboratory, the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute, the Western Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory and Acharya NG Ranga Agriculture University, seem to have reported the presence of nitrates, nitrites, and residues of organophosphates in Bt cotton plants. Certainly, the Bt gene is not responsible for the occurrence of these compounds.
An article in the
journal Current Science (February 2007) reported very toxic levels of
nitrate in the leafy vegetables spinach and chenopodium sold in
Details of specific poisonous chemical compounds, and their quantities in the feed and gastric residues in the affected animals, needed to make an objective evaluation are not available.
There is some overlap between the symptoms caused by nitrate and pesticide poisoning, on which separate articles are posted on this site. There is a correspondence between many symptoms reported of the dead animals and those of nitrates and insecticides.
Since the farmers use significantly lower quantities of insecticides on the Bt cotton crop, than on a non-Bt crop, nitrates and nitrites are more likely to be the toxicants than organophosphates. But this has to be established beyond the current assumptions from the public sector labs.
The reported statement of the Director, AP Department of Animal Husbandry, that ‘no biosafety studies of Bt cotton seeds had yet been conducted’, is factually incorrect. On the basis of extensive and intensive biosafety studies on Bt cotton conducted for over a decade in different parts of the world, its safety to mammals is not in doubt. Also important is the fact that while Bt cotton is being grown in nine states, no cattle toxicity complaints came, except from a few villages in AP. As observed by Hindustan Times (June 18, 2007), the situation does not warrant trashing the thousands of field tests and analyses done on the biosafety of Bt cotton.
The AP Government has rightly advised farmers not to allow animals to graze on Bt cotton fields and informed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests about the findings of the public sector labs, which prompted the latter to order a probe.
The solution to the problem lies in an appropriate grazing management, by providing the cattle with proper feed and preventing them from grazing on drying post-harvest stubble of any crop, not just cotton, particularly in the dry Telengana districts. Prior to harvest, cattle are not allowed to graze on crop fields and the same practice should continue after crop harvest too.
There is yet no answer to the question ‘Why do cattle die eating Bt cotton plants only in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh?’
July 13, 2007