Wednesday, August 25, 2010


It is rather amusing to read a recent report about a GOI Minister writing to a Secretary in his own Ministry asking for strict action against farmers who use a hormone called Oxytocin in fruits and vegetable gardens to obtain higher yield of the crops! The news were splashed across every newspaper in the country and Television Channels got a scoop on their hand to attract listeners. Probably the minister achieved the purpose of putting across an image of a concerned politician. Really? Unfortunately no one seems to have looked deep at the issue before coming to any conclusion. No doubt Oxytocin is a natural hormone involved in smooth delivery and stimulation of breast milk in new mothers after delivery. Synthetic versions are available in the market for use by medical professionals but what is interesting is the claim that it is available in the grey market for less than 5% of the cost at which same is sold under prescription!

Oxytocin is used as an injection for cows for smooth delivery and increased milk yield but such a practice is frowned upon because of the intense discomfort suffered by the animal. According to the country's law Oxytocin has been classified as a Schedule H drug which is banned for use in animals though illegally dairy cattle are given the injection by many owners to improve milk yield and increase farm profit. It is not clear as to how the substance is sold at 50 paise a vial in the grey market because the process of making Oxytocin is not that simple and probably the materials offered illegally are stolen from somewhere. With only one manufacturer making this injectable hormone in the country, there is possibility that vast quantities are smuggled into the country across international borders on which the GOI does not seem to have any control.

Coming to the concerns expressed by the junior Health Minister about misuses of Oxytocin, it is not clear whether he is more concerned about the drug rule violation because of which the hormone is available easily in the market or about the health of the citizens who might be affected by consuming fruits and vegetables produced by "injecting" the mammalian hormone into the plant. According to the pharmo kinetics of the drug, produced by the pituitary gland, it cannot reenter the brain once it is released into the blood stream due to the blood-brain barrier. Similarly any amount of oxytocin consumed through the oral route cannot enter the blood stream due its inability to get across the GI tract. If this is so how can a vegetable produced using Oxytocin injection into the plant can be of any risk to human life? If some of the reports are to be believed Oxytocin can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and irregular heart beat. And it can also create funny reaction like increased love and stimulated sexual activity, provided it finds its way into the blood. This is not to condone the ill-advised practices of the growers in resorting to such illegal activities in their relentless pursuit of easy money.

There is no clear evidence that injection of Oxytocin into plants that produce crops like Watermelon, Pumpkin, Cucumber and Brinjal can achieve higher productivity from the plants. From where the farmers have picked up this practice, if true, is not clear. Even if such practices give more fruits per plant or the crops have better quality attributes, the totality of the situation needs to be looked into from a scientific angle. It is hard to believe that the plant can transport this substance to tissues which regulate yield and quality of the crop produced. In stead of writing a letter to his Secretary, the Minister ought to have brought this to the attention of agricultural experts to investigate into such reports. Probably ICAR may be curious to know more about this episode and if there is some truth scientific investigation can be launched to get to the bottom of this controversy.


1 comment:

aparna said...

Dr. Potty, it's a sort of relief to read this write up because I, as a consumer have serious concerns about this issue.
I have known from someone working in the agricultural procurement department of a food company who said that after seeing the prevailing practices in the fruits and vegetables produce, at least Banana and Brinjal should NEVER EVER be eaten. Apparently the dyes used in coloring these vegetables and the injections used have serious detrimental effects on health.

I would like to know more about this. How to recognize and avoid such fruits and vegetables. And of course if they are really not harmful.