K. Venkateshwarlu

Animal Husbandry Director confirms findings to genetic engineering panel

HYDERABAD: Notwithstanding the stout denials by Monsanto-Mahyco, the Animal Husbandry Department has again confirmed that the mortality of livestock that grazed on harvested fields of Bt cotton was indeed observed in February and March this year too, especially in Warangal and Adilabad.

The confirmation is contained in a letter sent by the Director of Animal Husbandry Department to the Chairperson of Genetic Engineering Approval Committee on May 9.

The Director specially asked the GEAC to take into consideration the opinion of sheep growers and arrange for bio-safety studies on applied aspects like continuous grazing of animals on harvested or intact Bt cotton plants and the quantitative analysis of Bt protein in different stages even after harvesting.

2006 instance

In the letter, the Director recalled that last year when similar reports came in, the department had undertaken investigation and analysis of plant samples like leaves, boll, seed and other portions for presence of possible toxins and their ill effects in animals.

These tests were conducted in national and State institutions like Andhra Pradesh Forensic Science Laboratory, Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute, Jhansi, Western Regional Disease Diagnositc Laboratory, Pune, and Department of Agriculture Biotechnology of Acharya N. G. Ranga Agricultural University.

The results showed that the death of sheep could be due to high content of nitrates/nitrites and residues of hydro cyanide (HCN) and organophosphates.

The same kind of mortality of livestock was observed this year too causing economic loss to farmers.

The samples this time were sent to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izzatnagar, in addition to other institutions. However the results showed that samples were negative for these compounds.

Precaution

As a precautionary measure the department asked its staff to create awareness among shepherds and to advise them to not to graze their animals in harvested Bt cotton fields till definite cause was established.

Kavita Kuruganti, consultant to Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, told The Hindu that the letter had confirmed through official channels not only the toxicity phenomenon but that previous bio-safety studies on Bt cotton had left out important applied aspects of village-level practices.