Mysterious deaths of close to a 100 cattle calves in villages of Palaj in Petlad and Ratanpura in Umreth over a period of one week after allegedly consuming cattle feed mixed with laxatives from Amul have stirred up a controversy. While Amul has passed the buck on to the cattle owners claiming that they did not follow the instructions, the milk producers have accused the company of “shifting the blame after supplying substandard feed”.
According to the local administration, close to 100 bovine calves died in the last one week. Of these, 30 died in Ratanpura, while more than 70 deaths have been reported in Palaj, where the local revenue officer has also put up a board outside his office that reads, “Any milk producer whose calf – buffalo or cow – has died after consuming the feed with laxatives should list their names.”
The anger among the cattle owners is palpable. Mahesh Parmar from Parnamipura Faliya in Palak village, who lost three of his calves in one week, told this newspaper that although Amul supplied the feed mixed with laxatives, they did not issue any instructions. “I lost three calves – two buffalo and one cow – last week. They were severely ill after consuming the feed. I urged the local veterinary doctor from Amul to take a look at them but for each calf, they demanded Rs 300 visiting charge. I did not have so much money. So he did not come. There were so many others in the village too, who could not afford it.”
Mahesh added that he contacted the Animal Welfare Board which sent a team to the village and even took one of his calves for a postmortem. “They have not shared the details of the report with me. I have been following up with them everyday. This is the first time that my cattle calves died after consuming a feed from Amul. The workers brought the feed themselves and told us that it will help clear their constipation.”
In Ratanpura too, the milk producers said they do not know the ingredients of the laxative, which is called ‘Charam ka daan’ locally in Gujarati. Hasmukh Patel, who has eight cows, lost two calves in the incident. Hasmukh told this newspaper that the Amul workers fed the calves.
“The feed was given to the calves by the Amul workers. When the incident occurred and we began questioning the Amul leaders, they blamed us and said we have not followed the instructions. The feed comes every year and it is distributed free of cost but this is the first time that such an incident has taken place. They must thoroughly investigate and compensate the poor milk producers,” Hasmukh said.
The issue has also sparked a serious of letters from the Bharatiya Kisan Union in Anand to the authorities. Hardik Patel, President of the Union, who has also urged the collector to probe the matter said, “This incident is a cause of grave concern. It is not just about the calves who died, but all the animals who consumed the feed. It clearly shows that either there was some kind of quality issue in the feed or Amul is using these calves to test some new products. The packets did not have any branding or description of the components. Amul should come clean about this and a thorough probe is necessary.”
According to a memorandum submitted by Patel, the dairy has been trying to “hide” its mistake. “They are blaming the milk producers when their own workers fed the cattle. Even the milk producers are aware that overfeeding some particular feeds is not a good idea. Also even if the milk producers did overfeed as claimed by Amul, why would the calves just die? First they blamed nitric toxicity in fodder and now they are blaming the milk producers,” he added.
When contacted, Amul Dairy Chairman Ramsinh Parmar denied the allegations of surreptitiously conducting tests on cattle. “The milk producers were given this product free of cost. We do it every year. The product was supposed to be given to calves above the age of six years. We had issued strict guidelines. But the milk producers fed calves younger than six years and that too more than desired. It has caused the problem. They should have followed the instructions,” Parmar said. When asked about the composition of the product, he said, “The ingredients and the formula are technical subjects and I am not aware what it is but it is necessary to help clear constipation in cattle.”
Anand district collector Dilip Rana said the autopsy report of some cattle calves revealed liver enlargement and dehydration as the cause of the death. “We haven’t been able to ascertain if the feed was the cause of the death. But we have sought the expertise of the food and drugs department and asked them to test the feed and report about the contents. We have also asked Amul to withdraw any samples that are in circulation and Amul has made it clear that the milk producers may have overfed the feed to the cattle,” Rana said.