BT COTTON AND FARMERS’ HEALTH
We wish to bring to your attention a report about the health situation of Bt cotton growing farmers in India.
Following complaints of allergenic reactions among farmers growing genetically modified cotton, a three member panel was set up to investigate the matter in Barwani and Dhar Districts of the state of Madhya Pradesh. In March 2002, cultivation of GM Bt cotton was permitted in India. Madhya Pradesh is the fifth largest producer of cotton in the country.
The investigators were: Dr Ashish Gupta, MBBS, currently working with a voluntary organisation at Indore and is associated with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan; Ashish Mandloi, a graduate of Barwani College, an activist of Narmada Bachao Andolan for the last 12 years and associated with the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements (NAPM); and Amulya Nidhi, MA, MSW, specializing in Urban and Rural community Development, Pune who is a health activist working in Maharastra and Madhya Pradesh and associated with Shilpi Trust, and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.
The panel sought to identify the spectrum of symptoms which were reported as a result of exposure of Bt cotton, and to investigate the relationship of symptoms reported by farmers and Bt cotton. According to the report, “the study was meant to be a preliminary investigation merely to understand the above [the symptoms and the possible relationship with Bt cotton] 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”.
The investigators talked with various groups of people associated with the handling of the cotton as well as experts in the Barwani and Dhar Districts. They found that these people who had a direct contact with Bt cotton suffered allergic reactions in various body parts which included hands, feet, face, eyes and nose, with some having fallen seriously ill.
The study found that 82.6 % persons interviewed suffered from redness of skin, 48 % had eye symptoms and 39% persons had symptoms related to nose (upper respiratory tract). The local doctor of the area has reported that he has received 100 and 150 cases of allergy in 2004 and 2005 respectively in the cotton season.
The study has been conducted based on the observation and experience of farmers and those working in the region. The investigators hope that the study will stimulate further study as there is no comprehensive health and risk assessment carried out in the context of Bt cotton.
The report, ‘Impact of Bt Cotton on Farmers' Health’(Oct - Dec 2005) is available in two parts:
1. Impact of Bt Cotton on Farmers' Health Part 1
2. Impact of Bt Cotton on Farmers' Health Part 2