The Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti has demanded an inquiry into the recent deaths of livestock in Yavatmal district suspected to have been caused by the animals eating Bt cotton crop residue.

Officials have verified 19 deaths in Zari taluka. No post mortem was done, as the owners did not approach the authorities.

Official sources said that after the cotton is harvested, the half-cut crop is left on the field. Young shoots growing there would have hydrocyanic acid, a toxic element developed by photosynthesis in the roots and spread to young leaves. The cattle could have eaten these toxic leaves.

The sources said the deaths could have been caused by other crops like jowar. The matter was investigated by the Deputy Commissioner, Animal Husbandry. The officials had also sent people to verify the deaths and it emerged that the cattle were grazing on private land. No one approached the government for post mortem.

They also denied the Samiti's claim that hundreds of cattle head had died.

In a press statement dated April 30, the Samiti said the Indian Council of Agriculture Research declared Bt cotton safe for livestock, even though there were a number of reports and research papers expressing a contrary view. In the past fortnight, cattle eating the cotton were dying, said Samiti leader Kishore Tiwari. Amravati Divisional Commissioner Dinesh Waghmare said he did not receive any information from the Yavatmal Collector.

The Samiti's press release contains the names of the farmers who have lost their livestock. Govinda Atram, from Hiwara in Zari taluka, said he lost a young bullock which had eaten some cotton bolls left over on the field after harvest. He names 14 others from his village whose cattle had died. In some cases, the animals survived after treatment.