Cattle deaths at Bt cotton fields trigger biosafety fear

on may 9, 2007, the department of Animal Husbandry of Andhra Pradesh said cattle deaths reported from a few parts in the state could have been caused by toxics from Bt cotton. The department informed the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (geac) that tests of Bt samples taken in 2006 by laboratories indicated that the deaths could have been caused by the high content of nitrates and nitrites, hydrogen cyanide and organophosphate.

geac, however, recently approved about 160 new Bt cotton hybrids for commercial cultivation in India. The approval comes after a Supreme Court order in May eased a ban on trials of genetically modified (gm) crops. Many ngos have criticised geac's move and sought a detailed inquiry into the cattle deaths. "There is no concern for human or animal life. A slew of hybrids have been approved even when government bodies have confirmed the animal deaths,' says Devinder Sharma, international food policy analyst and a known gm critic.

Andhra Pradesh is now contemplating a new law to regulate sale and usage of gm seeds. "Since gm seeds are not in the concurrent list, the states have the right to have their own legislation,' said Andhra Pradesh agriculture minister N Raghuveera Reddy. The government had earlier insisted that companies seek permission before selling gm seeds in the state. But the Andhra Pradesh High Court allowed the companies to sell it.

Sharma says geac has no knowledge of the over 1,600 locations of commercial cultivation. But geac says all biosafety measures will be in place and every crop field will be monitored. But activists disagree. "Biosafety tests are not designed keeping in mind the rural realities like uncontrolled grazing. In a situation where grazing lands continue to shrink, the cattle will feed on the boll and the foliar. No studies have been conducted by seed companies or government agencies on open grazing on Bt cotton fields,' says Kavitha Kuruganti of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, an ngo in Andhra Pradesh.