Gurdial Singh’s cucumbers would not pass a drug test. In fact, they would not pass any health test. They look fresh and juicy. But it’s artificial muscle, courtesy the oxytocin — a hormone best known for its role in female reproduction — injected into them.
“Oxytocin can prove fatal if consumed through vegetables and fruits for a period of even two months,” said Dr Gursharan Singh, former vice-president of the Indian Medical Association.
If nature had had its way, Gurdial’s crop would have failed. All of last year, temperatures fluctuated in Ludhiana. Rainfall was erratic. As a result, most of the plants on his 20-acre farm in Ladhowal — a village along GT Road, 90 km west of Chandigarh — showed no signs of bearing fruit. “I kept checking… day after day,” said Gurdial. “They were barren.”
In desperation, the 53-year-old began injecting his plants with oxytocin 11 months ago.
“It was either use it (oxytocin) or watch my family starve,” he said. “I went to many agricultural experts to find out what was wrong. None had any solutions to offer.”
The experts said the same thing: fluctuating temperatures and erratic rainfall were causing abnormalities in crops across UP, Punjab and Haryana.
The problem is so widespread that oxytocin is flying off the shelves of chemists’ shops. Some are even stocking up on a buffet of steroids; a few cost as little as Rs 5 per shot.
Balwant Singh, a vegetable grower in Bathinda, 150 km southwest of Chandigarh, is unmoved. “There was nothing for us farmers to do but use the shots - or wait for a miracle.”
“It is a matter of serious concern,” said Suchha Singh Langah, Punjab’s agriculture minister. “We’ve ordered random sampling of vegetables being sold. We are going to launch a massive drive against steroids soon.”
“Successive studies have indicated that non-germination and failure to fructify are linked to changing weather patterns, particularly rising winter temperatures,” said J.S. Kanwar, agro-scientist. “Added to this are increased attacks from crop diseases and blights as pests and diseases thrive in rising temperatures.”
The result: failed crops and, when the crops do bear fruit, deformed vegetables and fruits that have no seeds.