Monday, November 17, 2008

Plastic Bags kill cows. Please decide which is more sacred to you.

 

Many people have been laughing their heads off at Maneka Gandhi's contention that drinking milk can be harmful to health. They find it ludicrous that milk-which is considered the very epitome of good health across the country-can be hazardous. Or the gentle cow-revered across the country as a harbinger of prosperity-can bring any harm. But Maneka's submissions are proving to be true, if in a different way. The Animal Husbandry Department of Uttar Pradesh has come up with an alarming discovery: Milk from cows which have polythene bags clogging their stomachs can cause diseases like tuberculosis and cancer.

Not to mention what happens to the cows.

The state Veterinary Department made the shocking discovery after an alarming rise in the number of cows dying due to polythene consumption. According to official estimates, in Lucknow alone about 80-100 cows die every day. Elsewhere in the state too, the polythene plague is playing havoc with the cattle population.

Jolted by the cattle deaths, a group of individuals comprising journalists, businessmen, lawyers, even police officers has launched a state-wide campaign to curtail the use of polythene bags and regulate their disposal. The 'Polythene Agony Campaign' draws the attention of people to the hazards that polythene bags pose for cattle-and by implication for humans. Shopkeepers are being urged to stop using polythene bags, housewives are being cajoled into disposing them carefully and school children are being roped in to stop the use of plastic. In Lucknow, roadside hoardings have sprung up in the past few weeks, demanding a ban on plastic bags.

The campaign has put the administration in a piquant situation. While the government overtly supports such an initiative, the fact is that it is one of the major users of polythene, supplying milk and country liquor in plastic pouches. Also, it may not be in a position to crack down on the powerful lobby of pan masala manufacturers.

However, the proliferation of plastic is just one part of the problem. Speaking to INDIA TODAY, DIG Shailja Kant Mishra, who is leading the campaign in Lucknow, said it was a common practice for cowherds to let their cattle loose on the streets after milking them in the morning. "During daytime these cows consume garbage wrapped in polythene bags," he said. If polythene bags are swallowed by a cow, they get stuck in the animal's stomach. The presence of the plastic in the stomach causes an infection which eventually leads to the cow's death. "This is how polythene is causing the death of thousands of cows every year," says Hardev Singh, director of the Veterinary Department. "He said that the infection caused by the polythene in the stomach also affects the milk. "If the milk from an infected cow is consumed by human beings, it would make them susceptible to diseases like tuberculosis and cancer," he warned.

Interestingly, the malaise is largely affecting only cows. The more valuable buffalo (buying a buffalo costs about one and a half times more than buying a cow; a buffalo also generally gives more milk, almost 15 kg whereas the cow usually gives only about 7-8 litres) is spared the agony because owners don't allow them to roam free on the streets foraging for food. Usually, buffaloes have to be taken to the grazing grounds and brought back because they can't find the way themselves. Also, the buffalo's milk is richer and more in demand. A good buffalo may cost about Rs 10,000 while a good cow can cost about Rs 6,000-7,000.

Singh has called for the strict implementation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,1960, which empowers law-enforcing agencies to arrest people who fail to provide food, shelter and water to their animals and allow them to stray, foraging for food. The Animal Husbandry Department is also conducting free surgeries to remove the plastic bags from the stomachs of affected cows. "On an average, 30 kg of polythene is extracted from the stomach of a cow," says Hardev Singh. About 60-70 cows are operated upon every week in Lucknow but that is nothing compared to the magnitude of the problem.

Hardev Singh fears that the decline in the number of cattle may have serious ramifications in the long term. "If preventive measures are not initiated, the cow population in the state may dwindle dangerously," he says. As a first step, the government should ban the use of plastic bags in the state. Then it should take on the cowherds who allow their cattle to roam on the streets looking for food. Otherwise there will be an ironical situation. Plastic pouches of milk may soon have to carry a statutory warning from the surgeon general that its consumption is harmful to health -- caused by plastic.
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http://www.indiatoday.com/webexclusive/dispatch/20000506/mishra.html

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