Press Release  | 05/31/2006

Rep. Souder Pushing to Revive Controversial Toxic Fungus Spraying in Colombia and Afghanistan

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Proposed Spraying Would be Seen Globally as "Unilateral Use of Biological Warfare"
Drug Czar, USDA, State Department, CIA and DEA Previously Rejected Unpredictable and Unsafe Drug Control Strategy

Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) recently voiced his desire for the U.S. government to use deadly fungi to kill drug crops in Colombia and Afghanistan. Souder, chair of the House Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources Subcommittee, is pushing the controversial spraying despite the fact that the reckless strategy has been rejected by several U.S. government agencies. Even Drug Czar John Walters opposes the use of toxic fungi.

A recent report shows that a proposed Congressional plan to require the Office of National Drug Control Policy to revive research into fungal "mycoherbicides" is extremely reckless, dangerous and unpopular, even with White House Drug Czar Walters. These mold-like biological agents would be sprayed on drug crops in foreign countries, such as Colombia and Afghanistan, where coca and opium are illegally produced. The report, commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance, "Repeating Mistakes of the Past: Another Mycoherbicide Research Bill," tracks thirty years of failed research and calls the current bill language, "duplicative, [holding] no promise of success," and a massive waste of millions in taxpayer dollars.

The House of Representatives recently passed the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2006, which contains language requiring field testing mycoherbicides for drug crop eradication in other countries. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee recently passed a version of the bill that does not contain the controversial mycoherbicide plan, but House Republicans are expected to make sure the plan is in the final bill.

The use of mycoherbicides has been rejected by every U.S. government agency that has studied them, including the Department of Agriculture, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Mycoherbicides were shown to be harmful to the workers who handle them; to mutate and attack non-target crops or other life forms, such as legal crops, normal soil microorganisms and even animal life; to be persistent in the environment for months or years; and ineffective against resistant coca and poppy strains.

Further, the report, commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance, shows that the proposed unilateral deployment of mycoherbicides will be perceived globally as biological warfare with potentially negative diplomatic consequences.

"If it becomes law, this bill will have very deleterious consequences for the United States and its relations with the rest of the world," said Jeremy Bigwood, author of the study. "The proposed unilateral deployment of mycoherbicides by the United States in foreign countries would be considered a violation of the Biological Weapons Convention, and would likely increase support for the insurgencies in Colombia and Afghanistan. We must hold ourselves accountable to the same standards regarding biological weaponry as we hold our allies and enemies alike."

The authors of the provision recommended there be "field studies" using mycoherbicides in target countries, such as Colombia and Afghanistan, where drugs are illegally produced. Testing these fungi in open, unprotected areas is tantamount to an uncontrolled release, as the fungi can be spread by wind, animals, and water. The bill's authors also wrongly insinuate that the use of mycoherbicides against drug crops has not been adequately studied, which is utterly false. The mycoherbicides developed for use against drug crops have been studied by several U.S. and foreign government agencies for the last thirty years in both the laboratory and the field.

During his Congressional testimony before the House International Affairs Committee on May 11, 2005, White House Drug Czar John Walters said: ...;"Because the controversy around mycoherbicides is such that it is likely to create an environment of -- when we already have an effective herbicide [Roundup] -- concern about other agents being introduced to the environment. The Colombian government has also said that it is not interested [in mycoherbicides]. Again, it is not clear that this particular organism is specific to coca...; If you were to spray it -- and it is not specific to coca -- it could cause considerable damage to the environment, which in Colombia is very delicate. In order to start testing this [mycoherbicide] in an open area, it is suggested that one would be using it...; Again, when you spray a foreign substance in areas where people are farming -- in proximity to people and farm animals, you have to be sure it is safe. And...; if you are going to do this in a democratic environment, you have to have the people's confidence that it is safe...;"

In 1998, Senate bill S.2522, the Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act, which authorized $23 million for a three-year "Master Plan for Mycoherbicides to Control Narcotic Crops" was passed by Congress. A year later, "Plan Colombia" -- counternarcotics and counterinsurgency aid to the Colombian government - was framed. An integral part of Plan Colombia was that the Colombians would use the mycoherbicide Fusarium oxysporum against coca crops. Governments, the news media and NGOs throughout Latin America balked at the U.S. plan, which was passed in August 2000.

Before Plan Colombia passed Congress, mycoherbicides had been the subject of a June 2000 National Security Council (NSC) meeting. NSC members expressed concern that the use of mycoherbicides in Colombia could be perceived as U.S. unilateral entry into biological warfare, and there was fear of setting this precedent and of possible responses to it. As a result, when President Clinton signed the Plan Colombia legislation into law, he waived the use of mycoherbicides there.

In 2000, the Fusarium oxysporum mycoherbicide proposed for use in Colombia was specifically banned for use within the Andean Community of Nations, of which Colombia is a member. Bolivia and Peru and Ecuador have domestic legislation banning anything other than manual eradication. And Afghanistan's President Karzai has said that he will only permit the manual eradication of poppy. The passage of this bill will only serve to alienate our most allies.

"We hope the Senate will thoroughly consider the potentially disastrous effects of mycoherbicide spraying, and as they draft their version of the bill that they remove the mycoherbicide language," Bigwood said. "We urge the Senate to reject any bill requiring that the U.S. government retest mycoherbicides for drug crop elimination, either in the United States or in other countries."

View the report here.

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Tommy McDonald at 646-335-2242

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