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More on Mass Death of Sheep in India After Grazing in Genetically Engineered Cotton Fields

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Farmers in India are reporting the deaths of thousands of sheep after grazing in Bt cotton fields.  A fact-finding team from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) found that in just the four villages they visited in Andhra Pradesh state, thousands of sheep had died.  The sheep had been grazing exclusively on Bt cotton fields (post-harvest) and all exhibited similar symptoms according to the farmers and post-mortems.

The report found that at least 1,800 sheep died, but the number is likely to be much higher since only a small sample of villages were visited.  The fact finding team found that in these instances, roughly 25% of sheep grazed on Bt cotton plants died.

Until the causes are properly investigated, we cannot know for sure. However the report concludes that a possible cause is the Bt toxin, which is concentrated in the young  leaves and flower pods of the plants which the sheep were eating.

One farmer reported that his sheep had died after grazing on Bt cotton fields last year, and so he had refrained from doing the same this year. His sheep had not died this year.  Overall though, grazing of sheep on Bt cotton was more widespread this year than in previous years, and there has been a correspondingly high mortality rate.

CSA are calling for a moratorium on all Bt cotton crops until the problem has been fully investigated and the cause of the deaths identified. They are also calling for all farmers to be fully compensated.

Best wishes,

Teresa

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1. Outcrop of Deaths
Article from the Guardian.  Date: 10 May 2006
John Vidal
http://society.guardian.co.uk/societyguardian/story/0,,1770903,00.html

2. 1600 Sheep Die After Grazing in Bt Cotton Field
Article from Sify, India.  Date: 30 April 2006 http://sify.com/news/fullstory.php?id=14194773

3. Mortality in Sheep Flocks after grazing on Bt Cotton fields
- Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh
Report of the Preliminary Assessment from Centre for Sustainable
Agriculture,    India.  Date: April 2006
http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6494 files attached: table1.gif, table2.gif, table3.gif

4. Mass Deaths in Sheep Grazing on Bt Cotton
Press Release form ISIS.  Date: 3 May 2006
Dr Mae-Wan Ho
1. Outcrop of Deaths

Article from the Guardian.  Date: 10 May 2006
John Vidal
http://society.guardian.co.uk/societyguardian/story/0,,1770903,00.html

Here's a mystery that GM companies do not want to comment on: at least 1,800 sheep have reportedly died after grazing on post-harvest Bt cotton crops in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, India. According to 42 shepherds interviewed by investigators from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) and elsewhere, the sheep became "depressed" and died within days. The team strongly suspects a Bt toxin, but farmers in that area use many insecticides and pesticides on their crops. The CSA team wants an "exhaustive investigation" and a "complete moratorium on Bt cotton cultivation until conclusive results show that the Bt toxin is completely harmless".  

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2. 1600 Sheep Die After Grazing in Bt Cotton Field

Article from Sify, India.  Date: 30 April 2006 http://sify.com/news/fullstory.php?id=14194773

Hyderabad: Sixteen hundred sheep died in Warangal district after grazing in fields on which Bt cotton had been harvested. A survey conducted by a seven member team of Centre for Sustainable agriculture working in Bt cotton issues revealed that about 1600 sheep died from Bt toxin near Ippagudem in Ghanapur mandal, Madipalli in Hasanparthi mandal and Unikicherla in Dharmasagar mandal in Warangal district. The sheep started dying after continuously grazing on the leaves and pods of Bt cotton plant residues in the fields for seven days. The symptoms did not correlate to any of the diseases occurred during the season, the study said. The team urged the Government to carry out an exhaustive study of the impact of Bt toxin on livestock, a release said in Hyderabad.

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3. Mortality in Sheep Flocks after grazing on Bt Cotton fields
- Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh

Report of the Preliminary Assessment from Centre for Sustainable
Agriculture, India.  Date: April 2006
http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6494 files attached: table1.gif, table2.gif, table3.gif

Background

Over the years there is a steep decline in availability of grazing lands in Warangal district with increased cultivation of commercial crops. On secession of rainy season, usually the sheep and goat are allowed to graze on left over fields after harvesting of crops. This year several reports appeared in media on steep rise in sheep and goat deaths after grazing in Bt cotton fields in Warangal district. During 2005 similar reports appeared and complaints have been lodged with Joint Director Agriculture by few NGOs. No action has been taken.

This year again shepherds of Warangal district reported that there was high mortality in their flocks between February - March 2006, after grazing on harvested Bt cotton fields. Some shepherds reported this incidence to the animal husbandry department, and requested them to confirm whether the deaths in their flocks were due to grazing on Bt cotton fields. Based on the complaints a fact finding team has been constituted by AP Shepherds Union (Andhra Pradesh Gorrelu Mekhala Pempakam Darula Sangham). The team consisted of five members two from Anthra, an NGO working on livestock issues, a veterinary scientist, Dr. Ramesh and a field researcher, Mr. Apparao, along with Mr. Jamalaiah, Secretary, Andhra Pradesh Shepherds Union and two scientists from Centre for Sustainable Agriculture working on Bt cotton issues, Mr. S. Ramprasad, and Mr. G. Rajashekar. The team traveled in three mandals in Warangal district on 22 April, 2006 and met several shepherds and farmers.

The villages visited were Ippagudem (Station Ghanapur Mandal), Valeru, and Unkkucherla (Dharmasagaram mandal) and Maadipalli (Hasanparthi mandal).

Ippagudem village, Ghanapur mandal

Village has 100 households belonging to the shepherd community. Forty shepherds and ten farmers attended the group meeting when the team visited. According to them the deaths began after their sheep grazed on Bt-cotton leaves/bolls. The sheep grazed on the fields which belonged to the shepherds and other farmers. This is the first time some of the shepherds/farmers cultivated Bt- cotton hybrid. Many sheep were not grazed on the Bt cotton fields last year, as they went on migration .This year most of the shepherds cultivated Bt-Cotton with the intention that they can get more yield and profit. According to them they grazed their fields between end January and March. The mortality started to occur within a week of continuously grazing on Bt cotton crops-residue. The sheep grazed on the leaves (tender leaves) and pods of the Bt cotton plant residue in the fields.

Mr J. Parmesh (20) suffered diarrhea after consuming the affected sheep's meat.

The major symptoms as reported by the shepherds were:
1. Sheep became dull/ depressed after 2-3 days post grazing
2. Cough with nasal discharge
3. Reddish and erosive lesions in the mouth
4. Bloat
5. Blackish diarrhea
6. Sometimes red coloured urine
7. death within 5-7 days of grazing on the Bt cotton fields

Age affected: Within the flock the young lambs aged 3-4 months, as also the adults in the age group of 1.5 -2 years were affected.

Shepherds transported their sheep to the government veterinary hospital in Warangal, so that a post-mortem could be performed by the government veterinarians. Some shepherds had also conducted their own post-mortems on the dead sheep (as is often the practice of shepherds across Andhra Pradesh). They observed black patches in the intestine and enlarged bile duct and black patches on the liver. The shepherds said that the Assistant Director, Animal Health Centre, Warangal, told them that these deaths appeared to be due to grazing of Bt-cotton fields as she has earlier seen such cases. The case history of all such deaths shows grazing in bt cotton commonly. She prescribed some medicines for the sick sheep. However, very few sheep responded and most died.

A shepherd of the hamlet village, Akkapalli reported that he had cultivated Bt- cotton the previous year and allowed his sheep to graze on it, which resulted in mortality in his flock during that period. This year while he cultivated Bt- cotton, he did not allow his sheep to graze on Bt cotton fields, due to the experience of last year, and his sheep did not die.

Of 2601 sheep that belonged to the 42 shepherds, 651 sheep died, which implies a crude mortality rate of 25%. (see table 1 below)

Table 1: Mortality of sheep in Ippagudam village Table1.gif

Table 2: The economics of Bt - cotton vs Non-bt variety as reported by the farming shepherds Table2.gif

On the way to Dharmasagaram mandal, we spoke to a shepherd Shri Kochla Malliah, who has 100 sheep. He too had grazed his sheep on the harvested Bt-cotton crop. 5 of his sheep died. He also reported that sheep had died in adjoining villages Molakagudam, Kunipatti and Kondaparthi .

Valeru village, Dharmasagaram mandal

Twenty nine shepherds participated in the meeting . Sheep mortality occurred during February - March 06 due to grazing on Bt-cotton fields. They described the identical symptoms as the shepherds in the previous village. Here again the sheep of age group 1-2 years were most severely affected and showed highest mortality. Of 2168 sheep owned by the 29 shepherds, 549 sheep died, which makes it a crude mortality rate of 25%.

There is large scale cultivation of Bt cotton in this season, the cotton yield obtained in early pickings was very less, farmers applied inorganic fertilizers and irrigated their fields in anticipation of second flush. There was good vegetative growth but less number of bolls. Farmers lost their hope in the crop and leased the fields for grazing to go for next crop. This resulted in large scale grazing in Bt cotton fields and resultant sheep deaths. Farmers buried the dead sheep in mass graves in fear to avoid further spread of the epidemic(!!?). There were no takers for the meat of the dead sheep, and the local business was also effected.

Table 3 : Mortality in Valeru village table3.gif

Unkkucherla village, Dharmasagaram mandal

We could not have a group meeting in this village, but spoke to some individual shepherds. The sheep population is nearly 1000 in this village. We came to know that nearly 150 adult sheep and 70 lambs, had died due to grazing of cotton fields during the month of February - march. Death occurred within 4 days of grazing the Bt crop residue in the field.

Maadipalli village, Asanparthi mandal

In this village too, we could not have a meeting with the shepherds. There are 20 households rearing sheep with an average population of 3000 sheep. In this village nearly 400 died due to grazing of Bt- cotton field in and the mortality occurred in the second week of February and continued through to march. Despite having reported the matter to the local VAS, no government veterinarian visited their flocks to assess the problem. So then they took their animals to Warangal, so that a post- mortem could be conducted. The Assistant Director, Animal health centre, conducted the post-mortem. She advised them that they should stop grazing their sheep on the Bt cotton fields. She said that the deaths could be due to grazing on the Bt cotton fields and she prescribed some medicines to the affected flocks.

Visit to the Office of the Joint Director, Animal Husbandry Department,
Warangal

The Joint Director was not in office on that day, but we met the Assistant Director, Animal Health centre, who had in fact conducted the post-mortems and advised the shepherds. We asked her about her observations and the set of actions taken thus far, from the department side.

She replied that while it appeared to be deaths after grazing on Bt cotton fields, and it could be due to the effects of Bt toxin, we cannot arrive at a definitive conclusion, as farmer also spray different types of insecticides and pesticides on their crops, and this factor confounds the observations. She had conducted post-mortem on 3-4 sheep and observed black patches in the small intestines, enlarged bile duct and liver with discolouration, and accumulation of pericardial fluid. She reported that she had prescribed atropine and prednisolone/ dexamethasone as she suspected that it was due to toxicity. These drugs are standard routine drugs prescribed in cases of poisoning. She reported that there were no kits or other facilities available with the department to be able to arrive at a confirmatory diagnosis that the deaths were due to Bt toxin.

We asked to see the post-mortem results / reports, however the AD said she was not permitted to show us and give us a copy and we needed the permission of the Joint Director in this respect.

Discussion

The preliminary information gathered from meeting shepherds across 3 mandals, strongly suggests that the sheep mortality was due to a toxin, and most likely Bt toxin from the foliage. Shepherds from the various villages which are located at 20-25 kms distance from each another, reported an identical history of grazing on the Bt cotton fields continuously, course of manifestation of disease, symptoms and death within 5-7 days of grazing exclusively on Bt cotton plant residue - primarily young leaves and pods. The post-mortem symptoms as observed by the shepherds, suggest severe irritation of the intestines and associated organs (bile duct, liver) connected to the absorption and assimilation of food and processing of toxins. The post-mortem report of the government is awaited to corroborate the observations of the shepherds.

The symptoms reported by the shepherds, did not did not correlate to any of the other typical diseases that affect sheep during this period (common sheep diseases occurring during this season include sheep pox, enterotoxemia, occasionally pneumonia, peste du petits ruminants). The symptoms appear to be a generalized immune response to toxins or organisms producing toxins in the gut of the animal and thus suggest death due to a phyto-toxin, most probably Bt toxin. Only further investigation will yield confirmatory results.

A review of secondary literature suggests that thus far there have been no reported incidences of mortality in sheep due to Bt toxin either in India or in other countries. The secondary literature on Bt cotton reports that the BT toxin is present in plant parts above the ground particularly in young leaves and flower pods. Recent reports also suggest that Bt toxin is present in the roots of the plant and that these released toxins into soils during plant growth and persist. Root breakage caused a significant increase in the release of Bt-toxin. Detectable levels of Bt toxin have been found in decomposing Bt-cotton leaf samples particularly high in fresh leaves, and then decline within 2 weeks of leaf breakdown. (www.deh.gov.aus).

Labs have demonstrated that the Cry1Ac prototoxin does bind to mice intestinal epithelium surface proteins and does induce insitu changes in electrophysiological properties and may cause diarrhoea and irritation of the intestines (Vasquez-Padron et. al., 2000). In vitro it has been shown to be cytotoxic to mammalian cell lines and also has been shown to generate immune responses in mice. (Vasquez et. al. 1999). Whether these can be directly correlated to sheep and other livestock with fermentation or prokaryote (bacteria) based digestive systems is left open but it does warrant further investigation, as in livestock diets rich in cellulose, which make the stomach environment more alkaline is a favourable environment for the toxin to survive in the active form, causing sufficient damage once it reaches the intestines. The toxin usually gets inactivated in acidic stomach pH but is highly stable in alkaline conditions; hence humans won't be effected much if they ingest it or if the toxin is taken in the oral route of entry through mouth and stomach.

Since the toxin may bind to intestinal proteins, there is a chance that if the sheep were exclusively eating the Bt crop matter, they would have in effect concentrated the toxin in their intestines due to the binding properties.

The report entitled "Background note on BT cotton cultivation in India", available at the http//envfor.nic.in, reports that toxicological studies were carried out on goats where they were fed Bt and non Bt cotton seed , and then cattle, poultry, buffaloes and fish where they were fed cotton seed meal, and there was no significant difference or toxic affect on the animals. The quantity of seed fed or age of the seed were not mentioned (as toxin content varies with time). However no toxicology studies have been conducted in India on a situation of sheep continuously grazing on Bt cotton crops residues- fresh leaves and pods. The toxicology studies need to simulate field conditions, as the phenomena of grazing on harvested crop residue continuously for a period of time, is a situation that predominates across India, post harvest. It is completely different from a controlled study of cotton seed feeding (we do not know for how many days). The toxin levels of cotton seed may be completely different from those of fresh leaves and pods. Here the sheep fed on fresh young leaves and pods, continuously where it suggests accumulation of the Bt toxin in the gut, resulting in death.

Recommendations

There is a strong need to carry out more in depth exhaustive investigation on the impact of Bt toxin on the local Indian livestock, as managed under our field conditions. The studies needs to be done by the Veterinary university before clearing the Biosafety tests.

There are diagnostic kits available from many companies for quantifying and detecting the Cry1Ac and other isoforms of prototoxin from Bacillus thurengensis either from the plants or even from animal tissue. There are kits available for general detection of the toxin itself in soil samples and plant material. These diagnostic kits need to be available at all the government veterinary hospitals/ agriculture department, so that they can be used immediately when disease reports come in, to confirm cause of death.

There should be a complete moratorium on BT cotton cultivation, until conclusive results are shown that the Bt toxin is completely harmless to our livestock, reared and managed under our field conditions.

The shepherds who suffered losses must be compensated.

References

Australian Government, Department of Environment and Heritage. 2005.
Summary of the Ecological Impacts of GM Cotton on soil biodiversity report. www.deh.gov.aus

Vazquez-Padron R.I.,Gonzales-Cabrera J, Garcia-Tovar, C., Neri bazan L.,
Lopez-Revilla R., Hernandez M., Moreno-Fierro L and Gustavo A. de. La
Riva. 2000. Cry1Ac Protoxin from Bacillus thuringiensis sp. Kurstaki
HD73 Binds to Surface Proteins in the Mouse Small Intestines. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 271, 54-58. Academic
Press.

GEAC. Background Note on Bt Cotton Cultivation in India.

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4. Mass Deaths in Sheep Grazing on Bt Cotton

Press Release form ISIS.  Date: 3 May 2006
Dr Mae-Wan Ho
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/MDSGBTC.php

At least 1 800 sheep reported dead from severe toxicity after grazing on Bt cotton fields in just four villages in Andhra Pradesh India

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

The Bt trail of dead sheep, ill workers and dead villagers over three years

At least 1 820 sheep were reported dead after grazing on post-harvest Bt cotton crops; the symptoms and post-mortem findings strongly suggest they died from severe toxicity. This was uncovered in a preliminary investigation conducted by civil society organisations in just four villages in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh in India. The actual problem is likely to be much greater.

This latest report confirms the findings of an earlier fact-finding investigation, also conducted by civil society organisations, on illnesses in cotton farm workers and handlers caused by Bt cotton in another cotton-growing state, Madhya Pradesh, in India ("More illnesses linked to Bt crops", this series).

And not so long ago, we reported similar illnesses and deaths among villagers in the Philippines linked to exposure to Bt maize since 2003 ("GM ban long overdue, dozens ill and five deaths in the Philippines", SiS 29).

It cannot be mere coincidence that similar Bt toxins from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis incorporated in the genetically modified crops are involved in all these cases; but the regulators have done nothing. Things are so bad that the European Commission levelled an accusation of bias towards the biotech industry against its own food safety regulatory body ("European Food Safety Authority criticised of GMO bias", this series).

Grazing lands decline as commercial crops increase Grazing lands in Warangal district have declined steeply as commercial crop cultivation expanded in recent years, and it has become customary for sheep and goats to be allowed to graze on crop residues after harvest.

This year, there have been several media reports of sharp increases in the deaths of sheep and goats after grazing in Bt cotton fields. There were similar reports in 2005, when complaints were lodged with the Joint Director of Agriculture by a few NGOs, but no action has resulted.

Between February and March 2006, the shepherds of Warangal district again reported high mortality in their flocks after grazing in harvested Bt cotton fields. Some shepherds reported to the animal husbandry department and requested confirmation on whether the deaths were due to grazing on Bt cotton.

Still getting no response, a fact-finding team of five members was constituted by the Andhra Pradesh Shepherds Union: two members from Anthra (NGO working on livestock issues), veterinary scientist Dr. Ramesh and a field researcher Mr. Apparoa; Mr. Jamalaiah, Secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Shepherds Union; and two scientists from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture working on Bt cotton issues, Mr. S. Ramprasa and Mr. G. Rajashekar.  

The team travelled through three mandals in Warangal district on 22 April 2006 and met with shepherds and farmers. The villages visited were Ippagudem in Ghanapur mandal, Valeru and Unkkucherla in Dharmasagaram mandal, and Maadpalli in Hasanparthi mandal.

Twenty-five percent of sheep dead within five to seven days

The Ippagudem village in Ghanapur mandal has 100 households belonging to the shepherd community. Forty shepherds and ten farmers attended the group meeting when the team visited. They said the deaths began after their sheep grazed on Bt cotton leaves or bolls. This year was the first time some of the shepherds and farmers cultivated Bt cotton hybrids, believing in the propaganda that they can get more yield and profit. They started grazing from the end of January to March. The deaths began within a week of continuous grazing on the Bt cotton crop residues. Mr. J. Parmesh, one of the shepherds got diarrhoea after consuming the affected sheep's meat.

The shepherds said that the sheep became "dull/depressed" after 2-3 days of grazing, started coughing with nasal discharge and developed red lesions in the mouth, became bloated and suffered blackish diarrhoea, and sometimes passed red urine. Death occurred within 5-7 days of grazing. Sheep from young lambs to adults of 1.5-2 years were affected.

The shepherds took their sheep to the government veterinary hospital in Warangal for post-mortem, some shepherds also performed their own post-mortem, as is often the practice of shepherds across Andhra Pradesh. They found black patches in the intestine and enlarged bile duct and black patches on the liver. The shepherds said that the Assistant Director of Animal Health Centre in Warangal told them these deaths appeared to be due to grazing on Bt cotton fields, as she has earlier seen such cases. She prescribed some medicines for the sick sheep, but very few sheep responded, and most died.

Of the 2 601 sheep that belonged to 42 shepherds, 651 sheep died, giving an average mortality rate of 25 percent.

A shepherd in another village, Akkapalli reported that he had cultivated Bt cotton the previous year and allowed his sheep to graze, which resulted in deaths. This year, while he still cultivated Bt cotton, he did not allow them to graze on it, and his sheep did not die.

On the way to Dharmasagaram mandal, the team spoke to a shepherd Shri Kochla Malliah, who has 100 sheep, but 5 died after grazing on Bt cotton crop residues. He reported that sheep had also died in adjoining villages
Molakagudam, Kunipatti and Kondaparthi

More deaths and identical symptoms in other villages

Twenty-nine shepherds participated in the meeting in Valeru village in Dharmasagaram mandel. Sheep deaths occurred during February ­ March 2006. The symptoms described were identical to those reported in the previous village.

Of 2168 sheep owned by the 29 shepherds, 549 sheep died, again giving an average mortality rate of about 25 percent.

In the remaining villages, it was not possible to have a group meeting with the shepherds. But the team was informed that the sheep population is nearly 1 000 in Unkkucherla village, Dharmasagaram mandal, and 150 adult sheep and 70 lambs died within 4 days of grazing on Bt cotton fields between February and March 2006. In Maadipalli village Asanparthi mandal, there are 20 households rearing some 3 000 sheep, and nearly 400 died due to grazing on Bt-cotton fields from the second week of February through to March.

They took their animals to the Warangal veterinary hospital for post-mortem. The Assistant Director at the Animal Health Centre who conducted the post-mortem advised them to stop grazing their sheep on the Bt cotton fields, saying the deaths could be due to the Bt cotton, and prescribed some medicines for the affected sheep.

The team met with the Assistant Director who conducted the post-mortems. When questioned, she replied that while it appeared that the deaths occurred after grazing on Bt cotton fields, and could be due to the effects of Bt toxin, it was not possible to arrive at a definitive conclusion, as farmers also spray different types of insecticides and pesticides on their crops, and this factor confounds the observations. She also said there were no kits or other facilities available within the Department to enable her to arrive at a firm diagnosis that the deaths were due to Bt cotton.

When asked to see the post-mortem results/reports, she said she was not permitted to show them to the team, as permission of the Joint Director was needed. But the Joint Director was not present that day.

Demands for in-depth investigation and moratorium on Bt cotton

The team concludes that "The preliminary information gathered from meeting shepherds across 3 mandals, strongly suggests that the sheep mortality was due to a toxin, and most likely Bt toxin from the foliage." They were impressed that shepherds from villages located at 20-25 km distance from one another, reported an identical history of grazing on the Bt cotton fields continuously, identical symptoms and death within 5-7 days of grazing exclusively on Bt cotton plant residue, primarily on young leaves and pods. The post-mortem symptoms, as observed by the shepherds, suggest "severe irritation of the intestines and associated organs (bile duct, liver) connected to the absorption and assimilation of food and processing of toxins."

The team is calling for more "in-depth exhaustive investigation on the impact of Bt toxin on the local Indian livestock", and a "complete moratorium on Bt cotton cultivation until conclusive results show that the Bt toxin is completely harmless". Furthermore, they call for the shepherds who suffered losses to be compensated.

What is not yet clear from the report is whether all the sheep that did not fall ill or die also grazed on Bt cotton; if not, then the mortality rate is even higher than reported.

Source

Mortality in Sheep Flocks after Grazing on Bt Cotton Fields ­ Warangal
District, Andhra Pradesh. Report of the Preliminary Assessment April 2006,
http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6494
 

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