Fungus May be Used to Fight War on Cocaine

Fungus May be Used to Fight War on Cocaine
Posted by FoM on February 18, 2000 at 08:03:00 PT
By Michael Hedges, Scripps Howard News Service
Source: Inside Denver
A voracious fungus that dines on coca plants soon may become a weapon in the international war on cocaine as the United Nations and Colombia with U.S. backing near an agreement to test the fungus in Colombia, officials said."Initially it would be a small test on the ground in Colombia, something on a far, far smaller scale than what would be needed for eradication," said Richard Baum, a foreign policy analyst for U.S. drug chief Barry McCaffrey.
The fungus, a mycoherbicide, has a strict diet eating only the coca plants whose leaves are the raw material used to produce cocaine, said an expert at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It has been extensively tested in the U.S.Testing in Colombia to make sure the fungus would not be harmful to humans or animals and would not migrate to other crops could take up to a year or two, Baum said. But if the tests were successful, "We are optimistic that it could be an effective tool in our efforts to control cocaine production," he said.But before the test can begin, an agreement would have to be signed between Colombia and the United Nations Drug Control Policy office.After months of discussions and research by both sides on technical and scientific concerns, the United Nations and Colombia could sign the agreement this month, said officials familiar with the negotiations.Colombian officials did not return a call for comment Thursday. And U.N. officials in the drug policy office in Vienna, Austria, declined to comment.But a published Colombian government plan for dealing with the cocaine problem that has ravaged that country allows for the use of herbicides.That "Plan Colombia" proposed to "support the new strategies under the United Nations International Drug Control program to test and develop environmentally safe and reliable biological control agents" to eradicate coca leaves.There has been limited use of chemical herbicides against drug crops in South America, experts said. But the fungus has proven a much more efficient predator of coca plants in USDA tests.The plan to use the fungus was developed in the State Department, but concerns that Colombia would be sensitive to any appearance of U.S. pressure to adopt it led to a request for the United Nations to conduct negotiations, a State Department official said.The effort to try a coca leaf-destroying herbicide in Colombia had its generation in a $23 million appropriation passed by Congress in 1998."Using Congressional appropriations regarding mycoherbicides, the State Department is working with the United Nations to determine whether or not this approach to narcotic crop eradication is an effective tool," said Rand Beers, assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotic and Law Enforcement Affairs.The necessity to try any means available to wipe out coca leaves in Colombia was discussed in congressional hearings this week.The Clinton administration is urging Congress to back a $1.6 billion aid package to Colombia. The aid is needed, in part, to help contend with a boom in coca leaf production there, McCaffrey told Congress this week.While Peru and Bolivia have had successes in reducing the coca leaves grown in their countries, the crop in Colombia has risen from 230 tons in 1995 to 520 tons last year, McCaffrey said.The specific fungus to be used in the test is a form of fusarium oxysporum called F.S. Erythroxyli.While similar to a fungus that commonly kills tomato plants in American gardens, USDA scientists said the fungus they have tested in Hawaii will attack no other plant.The fungus was discovered by USDA researchers when coca leaf plants sent from Peru to USDA research centers for study arrived dead. In the 1990s, a naturally occurring fungus devastated Peruvian coca crops for awhile."This fungus has not been genetically altered in any way," said Sandy Miller Hays, a spokeswoman for the USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Maryland. It also has not mutated in tests or attacked any other plant.On the other hand, once in the soil, it will kill coca leaf plants for several years, she said.How effective the fungus would be in curtailing cocaine production in Latin America has been debated at the top level of U.S. anti-drug efforts.One State Department official cautioned, "This is no silver bullet. Even if the Colombians allowed for widespread usage at some point, there would still be the question as to where the traffickers could go to produce the coca they need. It is important not to create unrealistic expectations."But another government official involved in the project said: "We think this has the potential to be one of the most important weapons we have in the drug war. This is probably our best shot at killing coke."WashingtonPublished: February 17, 2000  Copyright, Denver Publishing Co Related Articles On Anti- Marijuana Fungus & Cocaine:
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on February 18, 2000 at 09:27:49 PT
Rainbow is all too right
The American government simply cannot be trusted. All through the late 40's and 50's they conducted open air nuclear tests. They had soldiers in trenches nearby tom test their ability to function on a nuclear battlefield... with no protective suits at all. The soldiers in the trenches were irradiated at the moment of the blast, seeing the bones in their hands as they covered their faces with them. And then these draftee soldiers were told to march through fallout zones. Nearly all of those soldiers are dead from cancer now.The same with Agent Orange. Monsanto knew it caused cancer, but sold it to the military anyway. And the Air Force and the Army used it. And Vets are still dying from complications caused by exposure.And now they want to test a fungus on the ground at Colombia? Friends, the reason why funguses are so widespread is because their spores can survive dormant even at 0 degrees Kelvin - absolute zero. They are tough. Hard to kill. And they have mutagenic properties. Meaning today they may only attack coca plants. Tomorrow... cereals? Fruits?Given the Federal government's abyssmal record of ecological stewardship, I'll be burning up the phone lines right now to my Congresspersons and Senators and tell them that we are still signatories to the 1973 treaty stating that we will not be the first to use bio weapons in any conflict. You might consider doing the same.  
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #2 posted by rainbow on February 18, 2000 at 08:56:39 PT
Vietnam again
These are the same guys that gave us Agent Orange which was so harmless.We can not trust our government especially the Army folks.Rainbow
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by Montana NORML on February 18, 2000 at 08:08:01 PT:
Montana NORML sued to get documents related to a simlar fungus planned for marijuana eradication. We got a fair bit of info and have posted it on our website (link below).
Fungus Lawsuit Docs
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: