Daily News Archive

Pesticides Blamed for Deaths of 58 Cows on Alabama Farm
(Beyond Pesticides, June 13, 2003) According to a preliminary investigation of state veterinarian Tony Frazier, organophoshate pesticides have been named as the likely killer of 58 cows on a farm in Baldwin County, Alabama. Investigators are still analyzing soil, water, vegetation and bovine blood and tissue samples to determine what exactly caused a large portion of farmer Jason Frank's herd to drop dead late last week.

The case was not only the state's largest loss of livestock in several years but also unique because the cattle showed no signs of struggle. "These cattle died pretty much instantly," Dr. Frazier told the Mobile Register. "Some of these animals looked like they died just where they lay." Initially state agricultural investigators suspected that an infectious disease, such as anthrax, had killed the cattle. This has been ruled out.

Results of the tests on all samples collected should be conclusive within a few days, but preliminary tests pointed toward organophosphate insecticides that may have been used in a peanut patch, also owned by the Frank's, where the dead cattle were found. Dr. Frazier hypothesizes that the pesticides may have accumulated after recent heavy rains.

Initially, 56 cows were found dead. Two more were euthanized by a local veterinarian over the weekend. "This is a horrible disaster for this farm family," Marla Faver, an agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System told the Mobile Register. "This is a large sum of money." Brood cows, like the ones that died, cost around $1,000 each because they can produce calves.

Organophosphate pesticides, one of the most acutely toxic classes of pesticides, affect the nervous system through the inhibition of acetylcholine esterase, an enzyme needed for proper nervous system function. Many are easily absorbed through the skin and are synergistic with other chemicals, including pharmaceuticals. Exposure to organophosphates has been shown to cause headache, dizziness, profuse sweating, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, reduced heart beat, stomach cramps, diarrhea, loss of coordination, slow and weak breathing, fever, coma, uncontrollable twitching, and chemical sensitization.

EPA estimates about 60 million pounds of organophosphates are applied to 60 million acres of U.S. crops each year.

Organophosphates were also cited in recent cattle deaths in Nebraska. Read about this case in a Beyond Pesticides photo story from May 23, 2003.