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Date: Tue, 16 Jun 98 01:14:15 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Dangerous Game: US Bio/Chemical Warfare in Andean Drug War
Article: 36941
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.22640.19980623181528@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** reg.puertorico: 312.0 **/
** Topic: US Biological Roulette on Drugs **
** Written 2:09 PM Jun 13, 1998 by peg:jclancy in cdp:reg.puertorico **
from: jclancy@peg.apc.org /p>

US Biological Roulette on Drugs

Jim Hogshire, Covert Action Quarterly, No.64, [June 2000]

US CAQ Magazine No 64 contains correspondent Jim Hogshire's article, "Biological Roulette", and the USDA's (United States Drug Admin'n) selective foray into a Biological War on Drugs. This is a reprint of that article from Covert Action Quarterly, 1500 Massachusetts Ave #722 Washington DC20005, phone (202)331 9763, email <caq@igc.org>.Annual subscriptions payable by check, money order of credit card. The full text of the article including footnotes is available at $8 in US $12 other.

"This past August, a piece of good news came from the maze of nameless buildings at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Beltsville, Maryland. Dr Deborah R. Fravel, a plant pathologist at the laboratory for Biocontrol of Plant Diseases (BCPD) had turned the tables on a nasty tomato-eating fungus called Fusarium Oxysporum. She had developed a "benign" strain of fungus that "inoculates" the tomatoes, much as a vaccine protects a child against certain diseases. And the fungus is nasty. A virulent mutation of fusarium called "Race 3", has been a bane to Florida and Georgia farmers who have trouble controlling it with even the strongest fungicides.

Around the world, fusarium also destroys watermelons, chickpeas, basil, bananas, and hundreds of other crops. The blight, in all its myriad permutations, can lie dormant in the soil for years without a host plant, and then springs to life, causing devastating "wilt disease". Fear of introducing the disease is one reason Japan is loath to accept US produce. While some strains of the fungus are relatively harmless to most plants, other types of fusarium can produce mycotoxins poisonous to humans.


But the USDA press release was warm and fuzzy, describing "good" fungi "helping plants to help themmselves". There was no mention of Fravel's part in dozens of projects aimed at producing a lethal -but "natural" -herbicide from the same fungus for a different purpose. Pravel's efforts are part of a cabal of scientists working hand in hand with the DEA, the State Dept and foreign governments to produce a herbicide designed to effect the drug wars Final Solution: total elimination of the world's illicit coca crops and opium poppies -the same goal recently announced by the United Nations.

Fravel's boss at the BCPD, Dr.D.Lumsden is a prominent figure in the eradication research program. Lumsden's work with mutant strains of Fusarium oxysporum over the past few years has taken him to sites around the world and across the country.At the University of Montana in Bozeman, he and another ARS plant pathologist, Dr.Bryan A. Bailey are in the midst ofa fiveyear study of the toxic effects of Fusarium ('F') oxysporum and other fungi on opium poppies and marijuana. According to one of Lumsden's reports, unlike chemical herbicides, "these naturally-occurring fungi are safe for humans and the environment."

Lumsden worked with Bailey to develop a granular formulation of fusarium mycotoxin, for testing at sites "foreign and domestic". A Government coca field in Hawaii was eventually used to test the mycotoxin, along with traditional herbicides. A 1995 study of fusarium herbicide showed "significant kill" of coca bushes while other studies indicate a 60 to 90% kill-rate for opium poppies. When scientists noticed that ants sometimes carried away the poison pellets, Fravel and Bailey looked for ways to make them more attrac- tive to the insects -so they would take the herbicides deeper into the soil. The ants (which preferred their pellets flavored with olive oil) were found to carry the fungus both "outside and inside their bodies"


Later research by Bailey and others identified the gene responsible for one strain's deadly effects on coca. They then developed a way "to allow alteration of the gene expression." They began to play with the fungus' genetic code.

The ARS's long-standing interest in manipulating fusarium fungus is revealed in a series of studies it commissioned. One experiment set out "to construct a genetic map of Fusarium moniliforme" and "to identify mutants that affect the synthesis of" its mycotoxins. Another study proposed "the development of strains with enhanced pathogenicity" that could wipe out coca plants "using molecular genetic manipulations involving fungal proteins."

The ARS branch in Ft. Detrick, Maryland, carried out the "successful transformation of Fusarium oxysporum by"DNA sequence encoding." Claiming that it would have "limited environmental impact", another ARS study acknowledged that a "biocontrol strategy for coca" using Fusarium ('F')oxysporum had been "developed and successfully field tested in small scale trials. Researchers hint that they took their cue for the mycotoxin from a naturally occurring outbreak of fusarium (f) wilt destroying crops in PERU's Upper Huallaga Valley.

An ongoing ARS project, begun in 1993, noted: "Studies of a naturally-occurring epidemic of 'f' wilt in Peru have been concluded which verify that the epidemic is progressing and causing significant disease in the coca producing regions of PERU. Already, the natural epidemic of fusarium wilt in the coca-producing areas of Peru is causing farmers to abandon their fields. A protein produced by Fusarium oxysporum which is toxic to E.coca has been purified AND its gene CLONED. The data indicate that a bioherbicide using F.oxysporum which is effective against coca can be produced and proof of concept field tests are being initiated.

As early as 1991, Peruvian campesinos testified that they witnessed helicopters carrying DEA agents and Peruvian police dropping the pellets containing the fungus onto coca fields; however, there is no other solid evidence to support the allegation that the pellets actually contained 'f'. Other press accounts allege a direct link between the DEA and the use of 'f'. "The US Drug Enforcement Admin'n resumed full cooperation with the Peruvian police in 1994, when (the)strategy shifted to destroying illegal coca planta-tions using a mushroom known scientifically as 'f' and colloquially among the peasants as 'the coca-eater'. Because there are so many strains or races of 'f', it may not be possible to determine if this outbreak affecting coca AND OTHER crops is a result of natural causes or human intervention.


y The problem with creating any "bug" that will eat just one thing and then obediently cease to exist is obvious. All life-forms mutate and adapt, especially a simple organism like a fungus; sooner or later it will learn to eat something else. A similar situation occurred in 1971, when Richard Nixon misinterpr- eted a theory about "an insect which could consume poppy crops" and then die. Nixon, preoccupied by this imaginary weevil, by then dubbed the "screw worm" (because it was supposed to die after inter- course) asked Congress for funding. When Nixon's advisors could not be assured that this "screw worm" would be host specific -i.e. it might eat the world's supply of poppy crops and then adapt to another host, such as rice or wheat -they lost interest in the project. Eventually even these knuckleheads dropped the idea.

But research into doper bugs continued in 1996. Bailey, Lumsden, and Fravel -working on a project at North Carolina State University in Raleigh -wrote that their finely tuned pathogen "kills only coca and does not harm other plants". A recently launched study, however, suggests that the 'f' formulas are still not specific enough. One ARS investigator is studying the "ubiquitous species-complex of 'F'- oxysporum (that) is currently being investigated as a biological control agent. However, this fungus encompasses broad genetic variability that has not yet been delineated". There is, the researcher continues, "still a need to characterize genetically the strains that attach Erythroxylon (coca) and/or Papaver (poppies) as well as those that occur in soils and on crop plants growing in close proximity."

Perversely, the government touts the fungus project as environ- mentally friendly because it avoids the use of chemicals. For years, the US has browbeaten Andean producer countries into using US- produced herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate), and to kill off the "source" of the US drug problem. The Andean nations have baulked arguing that US consumer demand drives production, not the other way around. With the threat of withholding millions in aid dollars to bolster its side, Washington has demanded eradication. Local growers are then left not only without a cash crop, but sick from the toxic effects of the herbicides.

Protests over the health effects of herbicides prompted BOLIVIA and PERU to stand up to Washington and prohibit Roundup-like herbi- cides for coca and poppy eradication, In early March 1996, COLOMBIA abruptly halted herbicide fumigation in retaliation for being "decertified" for not complying with US drug war demands.

Humans exposed to Monsanto Corporation's Round-up -the current chemical of choice -can suffer damage to the stomach, heart, lungs, kidneys and skin. Glyphosate, according to a 1993 study by the Uni. of California Berkeley School of Public Health, was the third most commonly-reported cause of pesticide illness among agricultural workers. Another study at Berkeley school found that it was the most frequently reported cause of pesticide illness among landscape maintenance workers. As a drug eradication chemical, glyphosate has another problem. It can be washed off for 8 hours after it is sprayed on, making it vulnerable to rain -and farmers who rush into the freshly poisoned fields to wash the toxins off their crops.

Armed with the more potent herbicide Spike (tebuthiuron), the US is now pushing to use that defoliant in the drug war. Manufactured by Dow AgroSciences (formerly DowElanco and then Eli Lilly before that merger), the use of tebuthiuron has been hawked in Congress by Rep.Dan Burton (R-IN) -a longtime recipient of money from both Indianapolis based-Eli Lilly and Dow.

While killer fungi and many poisonous herbicides are not approved for use in the US, people in developing countries often have no say in what toxins are released in their communities. If some US officials have their way, unilateral decision-making could become the norm.

At a hearing he chaired on "certification" of nations in the drug war, Dan Burton told the State Dept's narcotics point man, Robert Gelbard, how to handle countries that refuse to be defoliated: "Tell the president(sic) of Peru and Bolivia at about 5.00 in the morning, "We've got a bunch of aircraft-carriers out here, and we're coming down through those valleys, and we're gonna drop this stuff, this tebuthiuron,,,'I think we should consider, if this really is a war on drugs, doing it unilaterally and violating the territorial boundaries of those countries and dropping that stuff. Now, I know that doesn't sit well with the State Dept, but either we deal with it or our kids continue to suffer and our society continues to let this cancer grow."

Whether "our" kids should be "protected" by poisoning "their" kids, however, is a policy issue that seems to escape US drug warriors. In their zeal to sound ever tougher on drug issues, Washington policy makers -together with fearless scientists eager to test their theories on other people's communities -may soon have a new biological doomsday weapon to unleash on their southern neighbors. At best, fusarium could become the latest bit of humiliation unilaterally rammed doen the throat of Andean nations. At worst, the fungus could run amok unleashing the modern equivalent of the Great Potato Famine."