Impact of Bt Cotton on Farmers' Health - part 1 (21/2/2006)

Impact of Bt Cotton on Farmers’ Health

(in Barwani and Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh)

Investigation Report

Oct - Dec 2005


An investigation report on “Impact of Bt cotton on farmers’ Health”

(In Barwani and Dhar District of M.P.)

Investigation Team

Dr Ashish Gupta, MBBS, is presently working with a voluntary organisation at Indore and is associated with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.

Ashish Mandloi, a graduate of Barwani College, Barwani, is an activist of Narmada Bachao Andolan for the last 12 years and associated with National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements (NAPM).

Amulya Nidhi, MA, MSW, specializing in Urban and Rural community Development, Pune is health activist working in Maharastra and  Madhya Pradesh and associated with Shilpi Trust, and  Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.

Contact :

Dr Ashish Gupta, 103A, Aurobindo Hospital,Sanwer Road, Indore. 094250-87843.ashishgupta33@rediffmail.com

Ashish Mandloi, Narmada Bacaho Andolan, 62, Mahatama Gandhi Road, Barwani.M.P.451551. 07290-222464,abarda@rediffmail.com

Amulya Nidhi, Shilpi Kendra, 22, Shanti Nagar, near Sri Nagar Extension,

Khajrana Road, Indore. 09425311547. nidhi_pin@yahoo.co.in


This Investigation has been conducted by us based on the observation and Experience of Farmers and Activist working in Nimad region of Madhya Pradesh. The Team acknowledges the people of the villages, Activist of Narmada Bachao Andolan, who have responded to the survey. The people have had much belief and conviction that this report would help activate a dialogue between the people and the Seed Company as well as with the Government. It will also stimulate further study as there is no comprehensive health and risk assessment carried out in context with B.T. Cotton.

The team specially acknowledges all Individuals who assisted us in investigation and all who have extended their support towards this endeavor. We are thankful to Vinay, Agriculture Engineer, Dr. Debasis Banerjee,  Agriculture Scientist, and Dr. Somesh Gupta, Doctor for their invaluable inputs. The team recognises the contribution of Mr. Laxminarayan Sohner for publication of this report.

Investigation Team:                           With assistance from

Ashish Gupta                                                                 Snehal

Ashish Mandaloi

Amulya Nidhi




1.      Introduction

 1.1       Bt in MP and Nimad

1.2        What is Bt Cotton

1.3        Genetically Modified (GM) seeds

2.      Agriculture Operations involved in cotton

3.      Methodology and coverage

4.      Limitation of this Investigation            .

5.      Analysis

5.1        Agriculturists, farmers, farm labourers,

5.2       Type and Severity of the Symptoms

5.3       Eyes and Respiratory Tract:

5.4       The relationship between exposure and symptoms

5.5       Ginning factory  labourers and owner

5.6       Doctor practicing in the area

5.7       Some unanswered Questions    

5.8       What is Allergy in Medical Practice and what is Contact


5.9       Agriculture Scientist and Plausibility

(or mechanism of action)

6.      Conclusion and Recomendation


Annexure-1: Names of persons surveyed  

Annexure-2. Questionnaire


Table 1-State wise Cotton Area (lakh-hectares) and Production for 2004-05.

Table 2 -Projection of Bt cotton planting area in India (hectares)

Table 3- Symptoms pertaining to Skin (Multiple Response)

Table 4-Parts of Skin Affected (Multiple Response)

Table 5-Symptoms pertaining to Eyes

Table 6-Symptoms pertaining to Upper Respiratory System (URS)

Table 7-Severity of illness

Table 8-Effect on exposed or covered parts

Table 9-  Place of exposure

Table 10-Agricultural Operation leading to the symptoms

Table 11-Stage of the crop


            Cotton provides a livelihood to more than 60 million people in India by way of support in agriculture, processing, and use of cotton in textiles. Cotton contributes 29.8%  of the Indian agricultural gross domestic product, and nearly nine million hectares of land in India is used to produce 14.2 million bales of cotton lint[1]. Maharashtra, Gujrat and Andhra Pradesh are major cotton growing states of India. The state wise distribution of cultivation area and production of cotton is given in Table-1.

Table 1-State wise Cotton Area (lakh-hectares) and Production for 2004-05.


Area in (lakh-hectares)

Production (lakh-Bales) 1Bale=170 Kgs







Andhra Pradesh






Madhya Pradesh















Source :All India Co-ordinated Cotton Improvement Project, Annual report 2004-05

On March 26, 2002, cultivation of Genetically Modified Bt. cotton in India was permitted for cultivation by a special approval committee of MOEF, the GEAC (Genetically Engineering Approval Committee).Commercial cultivation of Bt. cotton hybrids in India, in 2002 was 38,038 Hectares and in M.P. 2220 Hectares. Bt. cotton comprised 0.78% in India of the hybrid cotton area in 2002. It was projected that the 2003/04 and 2004/05 seasons would have Bt. coverage of 6.40% and 11.65% 560,000 Hectares, respectively.Percentages were based on the total of 4.8 million hectares of hybrid cotton area in India.

Table 2 -Projection of Bt cotton planting area in India (hectares)[2]
































New hybridsb












a% = percentage of area under hybrid cotton. Percentages are based on the present total of 4.8 million hectares of hybrid cotton area in India.
b New hybrids will be made available only on the approval of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Figures for new hybrids also include the sales figures of the hybrids developed by the sublicensees.


1.1    Cotton in Madhya Pradesh and Nimad

MP is fifth largest producer of cotton in India. Malwa and Nimad regions  are main cotton growing areas of MP and a large part of the economy of this region revolves around cotton. With the influx of various multinational corporations in India seed has also become an important commodity for trade and profit by these companies. Monsanto, a US based company has introduced Genetically Modified (GM) seeds in cotton (BT. Cotton) for the first time in India.

1.2     What is Bt Cotton ?

Bt signifies Bacillus Thuringiensis which is a bacteria found in the soil. Toxin from this Bacterium was being used in America as Bacterial spray to kill American Bollworm, a worm that feeds on Cotton plant and destroys it. The spray of Bt toxin was used effectively for protecting the cotton plant against American Bollworm.

Bt Cotton is a Genetically Modified Cotton (GM Cotton) in which the gene of Bacillus Thuringensis (Cry 1AC gene) was incorporated in the gene plasm of cotton plant by means of Recombinant Gene Technology. This gene while inside the plant produces a protein known as the Cry 1AC protein which acts as a toxin for the American Bollworm.

This GM technology in cotton was for the first time developed and patented by Monsanto Company of America and first imported in India by MAHYCO (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Co) in 1996. MAHYCO-MONSANTO  conducted experimentation on Bt technology with a number of High Yielding Varieties being used by Indian farmers for 2 years between 1996-98, and conducted field trials from 1998.

At present the Bt Cotton varieties being used in M.P.  are-

MECH-184,MECH-162,MECH-12,MRC-6301,RCH-138,RCH-2,RCH-118,ANKUR-09,ANKUR-651,PROGRO-144,BANNI-145,MALLIKA-207 marketed by Monsanto-Mahyco, Rassi Seeds, Ankur, Proagro, Nugivedu.

1.3  Genetically Modified (GM) Seeds:

            Introduction of the Genetically Modified (GM) seeds has been subject of intense debate and has been allowed in a very few countries. Where on one hand the companies which have been trading in Bt. seeds have derived huge profits by means of sale and royalty, the claim of the seed companies of high yield, low input cost and high profits has proved to be incorrect as per experiences in several states like AP, Maharashtra, Punjab There are 3,000 listed companies on the Mumbai Stock Exchange. Out of that only 8 companies have shown consistent profits for last 15 years or so. One of these 8 cos is Monsanto India.(Source: The Economic Times, 24/09/05) . Cases of farmers committing suicide have also been reported as a result of crop failure from some places and scientist have made an attempt to study the causes leading to loss of crop, high input cost and low productivity.

2. Agriculture Operations involved in cotton.

A cotton crop on an average takes 2-3 months to mature and each plant of cotton bears 10-15 cotton bolls that burst open to expose cotton fibres. All the Bolls do not open at once but in succession in 4-6 cycles. The cotton is picked manually by means of both the hand and put into a bag slung across the shoulder. The labourers have to move inside the fields picking from each plant then the other. This operation is mostly carried out by daily waging women and is very much labour intensive and work of concentration. It saps the strength of the workers because in the months of Sept-Nov when it is picked the sun rays are very penetrating and intense. However, the payment is on contract bases i.e. each bag picked fetches Rs 15-20 and in one day one labourer is able to pick upto 8-10 bags. Cotton picking season is most lucrative for agricultural labourers as she is able to earn Rs 80-150 per day. Some of the women we spoke to were involved in the picking operation and felt that we were wasting their valuable time while others continued picking operation as they replying to our queries. At the end of the day the picked cotton bags are transported to the house of the farmer where it is spread in his living room and courtyard along with previous days’ cotton. After few days the farmer transfers the cotton to the Agri-market in tractors and trucks. The operations involved are loading, unloading and weighing and are done manually by labourers. From the Mandis cotton finds its way to Ginning and pressing mills. In the Ginning process the cotton is fed manually by labourers in the machines, which separate fibres and cotton seeds. The seeds are used to make cotton seed oil and cotton seed oilcakes. The ginned cotton are pressed into Bales (170Kg each) and sold to textile manufacturers. The oilcakes and cottonseeds are given to milch cattle as feed and seed oil in unrefined form is used in soap industry while refined oil is used as edible oil. In all manual operations from picking to feeding to ginning pressing machines close contact occurs with cotton fibres.

3. Methodology and Coverage-

 It has been reported by some farmers of Nimad region[3] of Western M.P.  that Bt. cotton has been causing health hazards. In order to find out about the health aspects we conducted a preliminary inquiry in the cotton growing areas with an objective to  :-

1.        To identify the spectrum of symptoms which are being reported as a result of exposure of Bt cotton.

2.       To Investigate the relationship of symptoms reported by farmers and Bt cotton.

            The study was meant to be a preliminary investigation merely to understand the above and thereby to stimulate more scientific study on this issue. It was also meant to document the cases who had reported allergies as a result of exposure to BT in order to give voice to their concerns and raise public awareness and debate on this issue.

        During the survey 5 villages (Khaperkhera (including Bajrikhera), Karmal, Awli, Kothra, Bagud,) in 2 districts (Barwani and Dhar) of Nimad, a prosperous cotton growing area of western M.P. were covered.

Investigation area

The Performa with respect to survey was finalized after preliminary discussion with people working in the area who had personally observed the types of problems being faced by the people. While designing the questionnaire attempts were made to include questions regarding the direct cause-effect relationship as typically listed in other studies[4]like time relationship (does the effect occurs after the exposure), dose response relationship (does the symptoms increase with greater exposure), reversibility of effect after removal of cause etc.

Method remained filling up of questionnaire, recording of typical Case studies, Direct observations of affected persons currently affected, detailed interviews. In each village after a brief discussion with cotton growing farmers and farm labourers, we conducted interview of those persons who were having or had suffered from allergic symptoms after working in field or exposure to cotton.

Categories of Persons Interviewed.

People from the following categories were interviewed.

i)                    Agriculturists, farmers, farm labourers,

ii)                  Ginning factory labourers and owner.

iii)                 Doctor practicing in the area.

iv)                 Agriculture Scientist

4. Limitation of Investigation

Sample size was small. The investigation could cover only 5 villages and directly interview only 23 labourers and farmers even though in the objective of the study was to raise a question and stimulate further and bigger study but still this would remain a limitation of this report. The investigation restricted itself to only those persons who had suffered some symptoms thus there was a limitation in the design of the investigation. The investigating team did not bring on record the deposition of persons who were exposed but did not suffer from any symptom or those persons who were not exposed. The study could not do photo documentation of the affected individuals nor could it study many persons currently affected with the disease. The study was not designed to identify the specific allergen or predisposition of the affected individuals. Any future study on this issue can consider the issues not covered in this investigation.


5.1 Agriculturists, farmers, farm labourers,

We have covered only those persons who had physical illness and there was a definite exposure to Bt. cotton plant or picked cotton (referred to as exposed population). We did not do a comparative study between disease among exposed and non exposed population to determine the incidence rate. The objective of this study is to do preliminary investigation to list out the type of symptoms which are found in population exposed in growing this cotton (could be termed as occupational Disease).

The analysis has been divided into two sections :-

i) The first section from Table 1 to 5 analyses the type and severity of symptoms.

ii) The second section from Table 6 to 9 analysis the relationship between exposure and symptoms.

[1]Prospects for Bt. Cotton Technology in India R.B. Barwale, V.R. Gadwal, Usha Zehr, and Brent Zehr Maharashtra Hybrid Seed   Company, India;Volume 7 // Number 1 & 2 // Article 4.AgBioForum.

[2]All the above data has been taken from articleProspects for Bt. Cotton Technology in India R.B. Barwale, V.R. Gadwal, Usha Zehr, and Brent Zehr Maharashtra Hybrid Seed   Company, India;Volume 7 // Number 1 & 2 // Article 4.AgBioForum.

[3]Nimar Region of M.P. comprises of  Barwani, Khargone (both called West Nimar), Khandwa, Burhanpur (both part of East Nimar) and part of Dhar.

[4]Guidelines for Causation (used to establish relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer in 1965- ref Basic Epidemiology-student’s textbook-WHO,July,1990):

1) Temporal Relation- Does the cause precede the effect? (essential); 2) Strength- What is the strength (Relative Risk)of association between cause and effect  ; 3) Dose-response relationship-Are varying mounts of exposure to the plausible cause associated with varying amounts of effect? 4) Reversibility - Does removal of possible cause lead to reduction of disease risk?

5) Consistency-Have similar results been shown in other studies? 6) Plausibility- Mechanism of action.

7) Judging the evidence – How many lines of evidence lead to conclusion?

8) Study Design- Is the evidence based on strong study design?

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