Colombian Drug Fighters Oppose Killer Fungus

Colombian Drug Fighters Oppose Killer Fungus
Posted by FoM on August 07, 2000 at 11:46:42 PT
By Jeremy McDermott in Medellín 
Source: BBC World
The United States is pressuring Colombia to introduce a fungus it insists will attack drug crops while leaving other plants untouched. Environmentalists believe it could wreak havoc on the country's fragile eco-system.  Advocates call the fungus, fusarium oxysporum, the silver bullet that will destroy coca plants, used to make cocaine. 
The United States is exerting pressure on Colombia to attack the estimated 300,000 hectares of coca under cultivation. They hope that this action will reduce the flow of over 500 tonnes of cocaine that reach the US every year. The Colombians are not so keen. The Colombian Environment Minister Juan Mayr is adamantly opposed. "I told them: 'Gentlemen, your project is not welcome'," Mr Mayr said. He is backed by many leading ecologists, not just in Colombia but in the US. Eric Rosenquist is a national programme leader at the US Department of Agriculture's Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland. "The tests show so far that it is a reasonably good control agent," he says. "But I wouldn't extrapolate from that that it will work in Colombia. The ecology is different. There are competing organisms."' Fungal Fears: The fear is that once introduced into Colombia the fungus will mutate and attack the fragile eco-system of the Amazon, one of the most diverse on earth.  Opponents of the plan also do not understand why Colombia should be the experimental laboratory. Plans to introduce a variant of the fungus into Florida last year, to attack marijuana crops, were abandoned after an outcry by farmers and environmentalists. Colombian Senator Rafael Orduz called a hearing on the plan to test the fungus in early June. "If it's bad for Florida, why is it good for us?" he asks. But the US drug czar's office insists the fungus is safe, and has discounted reports of people falling ill after coming into contact with the fusarium, variants of which are used in biological weapons. "They... do not mutate to attack other plants," concluded a report released by the drug czar's office. "Humans would not fall sick as the fungus releases toxins during its life cycle and that incidence of sickness detected during testing referred to immune-suppressed cancer patients whose defence levels were very low, making them vulnerable to almost any microbe." Local commentators fear the US will steamroller Colombia into adopting the fungus, particularly after the grant of $1.3bn of largely military aid. It is intended to help the beleaguered Colombian Government fight the drug trade which is protected by guerrilla armies and their paramilitary adversaries. President Andres Pastrana is beset on all sides with an economy in recession, a civil conflict that has been raging for almost 40 years, and a booming drug trade. The US has reached out a helping hand, but there may be strings attached. Feedback: Link To Above Article: Posted: August 7, 2000Copyright: 2000 BBCRelated Articles:Colombia Agrees To Test Herbicide On Coca Drugs with Choppers and Poison Fungus Could Be Drug War Weapon Control or Bio Warfare? Fusarium Infections - July 1995 
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