A farmer died and 75 others were hospitalised Wednesday after suspected food poisoning at a symposium on hybrid tomatoes organised by agrochemical major Bayer Seeds at a village near Nashik in Maharashtra.
Police have registered a case of culpable homicide and those booked include the regional manager of Bayer Seeds. The company said it would cooperate with authorities in investigating the incident.
Nearly 200 farmers attended the symposium on hybrid tomatoes, organised by Bayer Seeds Private Limited, at Umrale village in Dindori taluka near Nashik. They were served lunch, arranged by the company through a private caterer. Soon after they had eaten, farmers complained of uneasiness and vomiting.
Almost all were moved to hospitals. While most left after being administered primary care, 76 were admitted to different hospitals in the district, including Nashik Civil Hospital. Atul Kedar (41), who was moved to Nashik Civil Hospital from Umrale rural hospital after his condition deteriorated, died Wednesday night.
Dr Suresh Jagdale, Nashik district civil surgeon, said: “We received a total of 76 patients who complained of uneasiness and vomiting. Fifty have been discharged so far and we hope to discharge the remaining 25 by Friday. Sadly, one of the patients passed away. We are looking into the reasons for his death and can comment only after we get a report.”
Police Inspector Rajesh Shirsat, in-charge of Dindori police station, said: “We booked the catering contractor, the cook, Bayer Seeds regional manager Sunil Mule and other company officials for culpable homicide. We have arrested Sunil Vadje, the cook, and Sitaram Wakde, the catering contractor. We have dispatched teams to arrest the remaining accused.”
In a written response to queries for comment, Bayer Seeds said that along with 15 farmers, six of its own employees had reported health complications related to food poisoning.
“Farmer training programs are regularly conducted by companies like Bayer Seeds Private Limited to educate farmers on the latest products and techniques in agriculture. As part of the program, it is routine to serve lunch or refreshments to the participants. Bayer Seeds Private Limited is extremely saddened at the unfortunate turn of events and extends its deep condolences to the kin of the deceased. We would like to assure everyone that the incident will be investigated in detail and we will cooperate with the authorities to aid the investigation process,” Bayer Seeds said.
In the recent past, Maharashtra has reported deaths due to pesticide exposure. Activists and farmer groups have criticised multinational agrochemical companies for not doing enough to create awareness on handling of pesticides.