Post-mortem evidence tampered with in Bt cotton sheep mortality case (31/7/2006)

In April of this year a preliminary report emerged on the hundreds of sheep and goat deaths that had occurred after animals had grazed on harvested Bt cotton fields in Warangal District in Andhra Pradesh in India.

The initial fact finding team report came from ANTHRA, the Andhra Pradesh Goatherds and Shepherds' Union and from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. It caused a storm of interest both in India and around the world.

Now ANTHRA and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture have produced new evidence showing that the official post-mortem findings have subsequently been tampered with, both to undermine veterinary department diagnoses that linked the deaths to Bt cotton grazing and to introduce spurious alternative causes of death.

In a letter to India's GM regulatory body - the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) ANTHRA and CSA report what they discovered when they examined the postmortem findings register of the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Warangal.

In the letter thay state:

"WE are aware of at least three cases [documented as video testimonies with the shepherds going on record on video] where the shepherds had not said anything about pesticides being used on Bt Cotton, whereas the postmortem findings register has some new things added about this in a different ink.

The tampering is to such an extent that where farmers had not reported about grazing their animals on chilli crop, simply because there was no chilli crop being grown in a particular village, the postmortem register now has this mentioned in the case history, in a distinctly different writing!"

They also note:

"A popular doctor, who was advising the farmers not to graze their animals on Bt Cotton, given the trend that she noticed from the postmortem cases, is under pressure to tamper her records – why? Who is behind this? Has the GEAC done anything to support her and investigate the whole issue?"

They also point out in the letter that while the GEAC has tried to dismiss their initial report as "highly exaggerated", the postmortem findings register itself has some cases recorded under the tentative diagnosis "poisoning fed on Bt Cotton". If such a linkage was made by veterinary officials in their diagnoses, then why, ask ANTHRA and CSA, is such a possibility in a preliminary dismissed as "highly exaggerated" when it comes from civil society groups?

What was needed, as they had requested, was a more in-depth investigation: "It was upto the government, including bodies like the GEAC, to have commissioned such an in-depth scientific investigation."

The letter to the GEAC, including excerpts obtained from the Postmortem Findings Register, is now available at:

Below are the comments of Kavitha Kuruganti of the CSA.

Kavitha Kuruganti, CSA:

Unfortunately, the GEAC, the government and the companies and their 'advisors/consultants' rather than looking into the ground realities, problems and reasons behind [the deaths], had spent time discounting the report. The manner in which the GEAC discussed the phenomenon and recorded it in its minutes made some agencies and individuals conclude that the GEAC had "finally brushed aside" our report.

...Our letter to the GEAC is based on the access that we obtained to the postmortem register and on the findings of whatever investigations were taken up by the Veterinary Biological Research Institute, Hyderabad, following our report.

The reports clearly indicate that there seems to be many different possibilities about how Bt Cotton grazing could have affected the animals in a manner that was not witnessed in those years when animals were grazed on non-Bt Cotton. Significant also from the postmortem findings, which we found have already been tampered with, is the correlation and tentative diagnosis drawn by the veterinary department official, connecting bt cotton grazing with the poisoning symptoms noticed.

It is shocking to see that there is pressure on the officials to actually hide the real facts as they have seen them and recorded them and to tamper their records. The post mortem records in the warangal district hospital are tampered to show that pesticides were responsible while the investigations by CSA shows that the farmers/shepherds have not reported any such spraying of pesticides on the cotton fields prior to feeding. We wonder what pressure GEAC is under for brushing aside these serious issues.

Now the reports from VBRI and agriculture/ veterinary university raise newer issues - that nitrates/nitrates were found in excessive levels in the plants. This could possibly have a connection with the higher use of chemical fertilisers on Bt Cotton and subsequent accumulation of nitrates in the plant. What is clear however is that the GEAC and other regulators governing our biosafety regime do not even know what to test for during so-called biosafety testing before approvals are provided.

It is in this context, to place on record our strong protest about the way the entire investigation was handled and the conclusions drawn, especially by the GEAC, that this letter was sent to the Chairperson.

kavitha kuruganti


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