Fusarium as a Biological Weapon|
The United States government stumbled upon the anti-coca fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. erythroxyli in Colombia when it "wiped out a test plot of coca being grown in Hawaii." From this fungus, the strain "Isolate EN-4" was developed and is said to only attack the coca plant. The United States government wants to use this "biological control" to terminate coca production in Colombia. (www.cbwinfo.com)
In 1998, Supporters in the US Congress tried to attach the use of the fungus to a 1.8 billion dollar aid package, but in 2000, the plan was rejected by the Colombia government and the United Nations. "The [Colombian] government consulted national experts on the subject and decided not to agree to test the fungus because it felt that any agent foreign to the country's native ecosystem could pose a serious risk to the environment and to human health." Colombia's neighbors, Peru and Ecuador, have also expressed concern about the proposed use of the fungus causing them ecological and agricultural damage. (http://www.greens.org/s-r/26/26-14.html)
The Colombian government's concern is understandable as there are many obvious problems concerning the use of this fungus. As is evident by the many varieties of Fusarium oxysporum, the Fusarium species is extremely capable of evolving and difficult to control. This proves to be a problem for a biological weapon that must be "host specific". Ed Hammond, a member of the Sunshine Project, stated that "Isolate EN-4" infected two non-coca species. "This is hardly surprising, Hammond points out, in view of the fact that
EN4 is designed to attack different strains of coca and therefore cannot be entirely host specific." (http://www.purefood.org/corp/biowar.cfm) The obvious question is then, what happens when the coca farmers change the strain of coca to one that is resistant to "Isolate EN-4"?
Even if the spraying of the fungus were to successfully eradicate all forms of coca, there is no telling what this foreign fungus could do to the environment. The rare and extremely beautiful Agrias butterfly's larvae feed and mature on wild relatives of the coca plant and may become endangered should this fungus be sprayed. In addition, the strain of fungus that would be used for this project is very close to the one that attacks yams, which is a staple for the Andean diet. These are only some of the countless casualties that may take place should this fungus be allowed to enter into the Colombian ecosystem. (http://www.purefood.org/corp/biowar.cfm)
For more information on the use of Fusarium oxysporum as a biological weapon:
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
Ethnobotanical Crisis as the US Government Attempts to Utilize Biowarfare to Unwisely Combat the War on Drugs
Risks of Using Biological Agents in Drug Eradication: A briefing paper with emphasis on human health.
Pleospora fungus. A biological weapon for the drugs war. James Robbins. Sunday, 1 October, 2000, BBC News Online.
Biowar in the Andes: The CIA's Next Secret Weapon--Genetic Engineering and Chemical Biological Warfare