THERE'S A FUNGUS AMONG US!
Florida, August 1999
Florida Drug Czar, Jim McDonough, who was Director of Strategy for Whitehouse Drug Czar, Barry Mccaffrey (what's with the Mc'-- furthermore, what's with the Czars?) has proposed dusting Florida with a Maryjane killing fungus named Fusarium Oxysporum.
Despite warnings from concerned environmentalists who are shaking in their wetland boots and the voice of reason issuing from David Struhs, Secretary of the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, McDonough (just say no to McDonough) shows no signs of (intelligence?) letting up on his push to eradicate wild (negligible) MJ plants from the face of Florida. Sayth Sec Struths, "Fusarium species are capable of evolving rapidly (as fast as drug warriors? perhaps a fungus is called for here). Mutagenicity is by far the most disturbing factor in attempting to use a Fusarium species as a bioherbicide (or in this case biological drug warfare,ed)."
McDonough says, "Is it Safe? I've heard some of the top scientists in the country say 'yes'." He didn't say which country and didn't say specifically what he meant by 'top'. Top what? Top paid off?
This 'brilliant' plan to tamper with the environment, developed by Ag/Bio Con out of Montana, has some pro drug war politicians and drug enforcers all excited (no accounting for what gets some people off).
The U.S. (you the taxpayer) has already spent 14 mil to spread fungus in Peru, much to the consternation of farmers who saw it spread to banana, yucca, tangerine and other crops.
Now Fl's drug czar, McDonough has the backing of a powerful ally, Rep. Bill McCollum (amazing, another Mc! This is the stuff conspiracy theories are made of). McCollum (try to keep the Mc's straight if you can) calls the fungus a 'silver bullet' (is there a school of euphemism that all these turkeys go to or what?) in the war against Marijuana.
McDonough (Florida drug czar, try to keep up) has his eye on the prize, his cut of the $23 mil congressional allocation for biological warfare against the poppy (heroin). Meanwhile his plan is to 'test' the fungus in a controlled environment near Gainesville, FL. We must presume (from past experience with Government 'plans') that this test in a controlled environment must take place before they unleash it on the uncontrolled environment.
UPDATE:Fungus Didn`t Fly In Florida So Profiteer Takes It To Columbia
13th International Conference on Drug Policy Reform, May 20th, 2000
The issue of mycoherbicides is of special relevance today because the proposed use of these fungi against coca and poppy plants in Colombia has been a much overlooked element of the proposed US aid package. While the House version of Plan Colombia contains language that makes the use of mycoherbicides mandatory in exchange for granting US military aid to the Colombian government.
The Senate version, which just came out - stipulates that any herbicide to be used in Colombia be tested and approved by the U.S. Surgeon General, and also the EPA. The final compromise language of the Bill will come out of Conference Committee at some point in the near future. So, where did this idea of using fungi against drug plants come from? Certain fungi - mainly rusts and molds have had a long history of killing food crops and causing sometimes deadly intoxication of animals and humans. Most of the research on these fungi has attempted to find a way to kill them or a way to protect agricultural crops against them. Some research, however, has been a little more devious: it was to extract the toxic chemicals of these fungi so that they could be used as biological warfare agents, which we can talk about at some other time, but which is relevant to this topic only in that some of these biowarfare toxins are produced by the same species being proposed to be used as mycoherbicides against drug plants. The present research goes against all of the previous work: the idea of these mycoherbicides is to kill crops.
In the US, the idea of using some kind of living organism to attack drug plants stems from Richard Nixon's war on drugs. At that time, work was done on a plant-eating worm, and other organisms, but, as Cannabis-disease researcher John McPartland has pointed out, cooler heads prevailed at the time, and the research went nowhere. Indeed, during the early 1970's there was a world-wide shortage of legal medicinal opium production, and the idea of wiping out the rest of the world's supply through some disease or pest was unnerving to many.
The discovery of a coca killing fungus came about by accident. During the 1960's a major soft drink company - you can guess which one- cultivated coca plants in an experimental station in Hawaii. These plants mysteriously started to wilt and die. More plants were imported, and these also died. At the time, Harvard Botanist Tim Plowman, who was writing the monograph on the Coca family -Erythroxylum- thought that the coca plants were dying from some kind of fungal or bacterial disease that was soil-bound, native to Hawaii. But, instead of attacking native Hawaiian plant species, it started to chew on the transplanted coca, a process that may or may not have involved mutation. More seeds were imported, and these also showed signs of necrosis and wilt, and eventually succumbed to the disease. Sometime during the 1970's and early 1980's, government agencies undertook classified research on the disease and isolated a strain of fungus called Fusarium oxysporum from dying coca plants.
One of these agencies was the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, known as ARS, which duplicated some of the research and isolated pathogenic strains from Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. erythroxyli. The best known strain was called EN-4 and was isolated by a Dr. David Sands. During the 1980's similar research, often by the same scientists, focused on using other fungi to kill other drugplants, including marijuana, opium, ephedra, and khat. Another variety of Fusarium oxysporum was chosen for use against marijuana, and another fungus from another genus was chosen for use against the opium poppy. While the US government was doing this research, it is also true that the Soviets, the British and probably others were also involved, especially in the research against opium poppy. And, as General McCaffrey would say: "and... oh, by the way" some of the early research by ARS showed that strain EN-4 killed other plants completely unrelated to coca. But, such findings were ignored.
During the late 1980's, as if by magic, an epidemic of Fusarium wilt attacked the coca-growing area of the Huallaga Valley in Peru. Many reports from campesinos in the area claim that it was preceded by US helicopters or small planes applying a substance to coca fields. But because of the difficulty of getting into the area during that time - this was during the civil war - it was very difficult to get solid information on what was really going on. However, my colleague, Sharon Stevenson was able to publish an article on this issue in the Miami Herald in 1991 citing numerous interviews.
The US Embassy, however, proclaimed the disease to be a "natural" outbreak of the fungus and criticized those who believed otherwise. The embassy did follow the development of the disease, through local newspapers and through US-funded human rights organizations and other informants. For instance, they noted that in area, Leonicio Prado, 3,000 peasant families could no longer grow any food crops, because the blight had not just killed the coca, but everything else. After the disease hit, the entire population had to pan for gold in order to survive - a very unstable existence. The Agricultural Research Service also contacted local scientists in Peru, one of whom wrote a report funded by the USG clearly implicating the fungus in the death of other plant species, including native food crops. In spite of his honest reporting, he was run out of town because he was found out to be working for the US, and the locals thought that he was actually spreading the fungus!
Was this original Peruvian epidemic a "natural" occurrence, or was it part of another US clandestine program? I don't know. Two years ago, the concept of using mycoherbicides against coca was a key element of The Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act, though it got little mention in the media. Why would there have been so much faith in a mycoherbicide if it had not successfully been used somewhere?
The mainstream media finally picked up on the story last year when Florida almost got doused with it. Colonel Jim McDonough left his job at ONDCP under the tutelage of General McCaffrey for greener pastures - as the head of the Florida Drug Control Office. Apparently, the first thing he proposed was to spray Florida with Fusarium in an attempt to kill off all of the outdoor marijuana grown there. However, this idea was not well-received by Florida's Department of Environmental Protection. In fact, it created quite a stir when the head of that Department, a Dr. Struhs, wrote a well-publicized letter to the Colonel explaining that Fusarium will attack other crops and mutates. Moreover, it will stay in the ground for some 40 years. The man behind the Colonel, was Dr. David Sands, the same scientist who had first isolated EN-4 for the Agricultural Research Service, but was now representing his own company, Ag/Bio Con - which was marketing an anti-marijuana version of Fusarium. After Struhs' letter was published, many Floridians got very upset about the idea of bringing a new pathogen into the state, and the idea was nixed.
The issue is now "moribund", according to one source close to the Colonel. Indeed, Sands and the Colonel did not even get a couple of plants to set up a controlled experiment in a secure laboratory! Dr. Sands then set his sights on Colombia. He was down there last March, threatening scientists not to talk to the press, and spinning his story about the safety of EN-4. Scientists in Colombia who attended his presentation then investigated Fusarium oxysporum and found out that in humans who are immuno-compromised, the rate of death from Fusarium infection can be as high as 76% - and this is from peer-reviewed medical literature. In the Colombian setting, after US approves military aid, we can expect massive amounts of displaced campesino families who will be on-the-run in the jungle fleeing our escalation of their civil war.
In the 1980s in El Salvador, I escaped with civilian populations in "guindas" which are long journeys to outflank and evade army offensives. If one is not immunocompromised from the bad food that one must live on in jungle hamlets, one would be after days of walking, stumbling, and providing iron and protein to the insect life of the area. To then apply a mycoherbicide from the air that has been associated with a 76% kill rate in hospitalized human patients would be tantamount to biological warfare. After Dr. Sands left Colombia, Colombian officials and scientists came up with a counterproposal to study natural pests and plagues that attack coca, in the hopes that they can ameliorate or slow down the North-American attack by taking it into their own hands and finding less dangerous native pathogens to kill coca. They know that if their counterproposal doesn't work, there will be no stopping the Americans with all of their money, especially in a wartime situation where criticism of the US is viewed as sympathy for the enemy, and may result in a visit by the paramilitary death squads.
Even before Sands' visit, the US had already been pressuring the United Nations Drug Control Program to conduct a mycoherbicide project in Colombia. In fact, Madeleine Albright herself wrote an "Action Request" to UNDCP head Pino Arlacchi to set up testing for "large-scale implementation" of Fusarium on coca in Colombia.
Why did the US want the UN to do it? For political cover. The US did not want to appear as the pusher behind the project. The US also handed over all of its mycoherbicide technology to the UNDCP, as well as a large amount of money. Coincidentally, Pino Arlacchi, the UNDCP head, needed money at the time. His office was small, with little influence. However, others within the UN were less than happy with this idea. If UNDCP was seen to be a part of US/Colombian counterinsurgent strategy, then how could the UN possibly mediate a negotiated solution to the Colombian civil war? And, if not the UN, then who? So, it was without great zeal that the UNDCP office in Colombia proposed to the Colombian government that they sign on to this project.
The draft contract itself stated that the Colombian Government would be held responsible for any problems arising from the use of mycoherbicides, and that the project would be "Colombian, " although the intellectual property rights of the mycoherbicide would stay in the US, meaning that the Colombians would get burned. The draft contract and the communication between the State Department and the UNDCP also alleged that Dr. Sands' strain of Fusarium, EN-4 had already been "found" in southern Colombia and was spreading north, thereby obviating the need to pass through the international legal hoops of exporting a new pathogen to Colombia. How convenient! In my copy of the draft contract - which was a photocopy of the one ARS had sent around their office, one of the top researchers at ARS had scribbled a note doubting EN-4's presence in southern Colombia.
Sharon and I decided to check this out, since it was a critical point: if the State Department and the UN were lying, and there was no EN-4 in Colombia, Sands' product could not be legally applied in Colombia. To do so would be in violation of International Law. In late March we went to southern Colombia. We asked the FARC rebels, we asked agronomists, we asked the Catholic church. Back in Bogotá, we asked the spraying expert recommended by the Embassy, we asked Klaus Nyholm, the head of the UNDCP in Colombia, Ministers of this and that, lots of people from NGOs, and the answer was a resounding "NO" - there had been no outbreak of Fusarium of any kind on coca in southern Colombia. No EN-4 in Colombia. This meant that Sands' product could not be used there legally. The UN draft contract for Colombia was based on yet another proposal, this one made with the government of Uzbekistan. The UNDCP-Uzbekistan contract was signed two years ago, and was funded by the US and the UK, and based upon old Soviet mycoherbicide work against opium poppy.
Documents we obtained show that the Uzbekistan research station is a far cry from an environmentally-secure testing ground. It is a rudimentary Rube Goldberg version of a lab, with not even the most basic amenities such as large autoclaves for sterilization, or even running vehicles for transportation. While the Uzbek station is focusing its research mainly on another mycoherbicide called Pleospora papaveraceae containing yet-unknown mycotoxins, the following quote indicates that there are serious problems for the workers: "Staff have already complained of symptoms of dermatitis and respiratory difficulties after exposure to the high concentrations of the fungus which occur in the presently unsafe working conditions. A laminar down-flow biological safety cabinet will eliminate this problem."
Where is all of this going? Right now everything depends on whether mycoherbicides get a legal foothold in the international scene, and the most important test of this right now is the Colombia aid bill being considered in the Senate.
Pubdate: Sun, 16 Jul 2000 Source: Associated Press
COCA-KILLING FUNGUS TRIALS RULED OUT BY COLOMBIA BOGOTA, Colombia - The Colombian government says it has no intention of testing or even further studying a fungus promoted by the United Nations and the United States as a potential "silver bullet" for killing coca plants. In an interview, Environment Minister Juan Mayr said the US State Department "told lies" when it reported last week that Colombia had agreed to field test the fungus before deciding whether to it use against cocaine-producing plants. "We will not accept the introduction of any foreign element, which is what they have offered us under the name Fusarium oxysporum," Mayr said yesterday, adding: "We have told them to forget it."
Mayr said a team of scientists from the government, Bogota's National University, and several prestigious private institutes examined the plan presented several months ago under UN auspices, and rejected it categorically. They warned of possible mutations and adverse affects on people and the environment in the delicate Amazon basin, where most of Colombia's coca is grown. Based on expert opinions, "I think it makes no sense to permit the entry of an external biological agent that can have an adverse affect on our ecosystems," said Mayr, who has the authority to reject the use of any herbicide based on the fungus in Colombia. Mayr said the government would welcome funding for research into alternative biological controls based on "blights" or even insects already present in the coca-growing areas. He said there was no evidence that Fusarium oxysporum - an outbreak of which ravaged coca in Peru in the early 1990s - exists in the southern states where most of the almost 120,000 hectares of coca are grown. Nor does the government plan to look for it further, Mayr added.
Last week, a State Department spokesman said reports that Colombia had agreed to a US-funded testing program were accurate. The New York Times reported on July 6 that the Colombian government had agreed to such a program under US pressure. Washington's leverage here is undoubtedly growing as Colombia prepares to receive the bulk of a $US1.3 billion ($A2.22 billion) US aid package President Bill Clinton signed Thursday for stemming an explosion of cocaine production in the South American country.
The aid, much of it for military helicopters, would permit increased aerial eradication of coca crops using chemical herbicides already approved by Mayr's ministry. Armed leftist rebels entrenched in the coca regions have impeded fumigation, often firing on crop dusting planes. The rebels and peasant coca farmers contend chemical spraying causes illnesses, and kills food crops as well as coca - not to mention forcing growers to cut down more virgin forest in order to replant their wilted crops.
The development of a safe, nontoxic, Fusarium-based herbicide that kills only the coca would "obviate these concerns" argued the spurned UN proposal, which was to be funded with a $US300,000 ($A511,683) grant from the US Department of Agriculture. But according to Mayr, many of the complaints about the approved herbicide - known as glyphosate - are highly exaggerated. He said it would be better to keep spraying glyphosate while developing biological alternatives than to introduce a potentially hazardous fungus.
Amid complaints from environmentalists, the state of Florida last year ditched a plan to test a strain of Fusarium against marijuana crops. Colombians wonder why the US government is so eager to use it in their country. "Why apply it, even in a test, on Colombian territory and not in the United States?" Bogota's leading El Tiempo newspaper said in its editorial today. "Is destroying coca a mission to be carried out at any cost, without any considerations?"