U.S. Moves Towards Biological Warfare in Colombia
January 24, 2003: U.S. legislators are making new threats to use biological weapons in Colombia's civil war. In December 2002 a plan resurfaced in the U.S. House of Representatives to employ an untested pathogenic fungus, Fusarium oxysporum in Colombia's U.S.-funded "War on Drugs." Critics say the plan proposes illegal acts of biological warfare, poses major ecological risks to one of the world's most bio-diverse countries, and will increase the human damage of a failed eradication policy.
The new fungal
agents were dubbed Agent Green by the Sunshine
Project, a non-governmental organization opposed to
the use of biological weapons, and were developed
by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and by two
other facilities using U.S. government funding--a
private company in Montana, and a former Soviet
biological weapons facility in Tashkent,
Uzbekistan. The lead agents are types of Fusarium
oxysporum (to kill coca and cannabis) and Pleospora
papaveracea (to kill opium poppy). Their ecological
and human health safety is very poorly tested, and
they are known to impact non-target species.
In June 1999, the U.S. Senate approved a US$1.3
billion aid package in support of Colombia's "War
on Drugs," that required testing of the fungal
pathogen as another weapon to be employed against
illicit drugs, along with conventional pesticides.
The plan was opposed by civil society worldwide,
and President Clinton eventually waived this
requirement, citing concerns for the proliferation of
biological weapons. Colombia also rejected
proposals to test this pathogen due to environmental
The coca-killing strain of Fusarium oxysporum is
naturally abundant in temperate and tropical
zones, killing plants by releasing fungal toxins
(mycotoxins) into plant roots. A generalist fungal
pathogen, the toxin attacks a variety of plants.
Because it persists in soil, Fusarium oxysporum
would make the soil sprayed in Colombia unfit for
coca-cultivation for up to 40 years.
Pesticide Action Network scientist Margaret
Reeves states "Fusarium oxysporum is a huge threat,
with potentially enormous negative consequences for
a variety of plant species. Little is known about
possible dangers of a massive introduction of
these fungi into the environment, their potential to
attack other plant species or the health risks
caused by the toxins they produce." The Sunshine
Project considers Agent Green an indiscriminate
killer, that poses threats to human health and to
non-targeted species. Some Fusarium species are
also known to cause human disease, especially in
individuals with compromised immune systems due to
cancer, AIDS or even asthma.
Clearly, the large-scale introduction of a
persistent and generalist toxin, is extremely risky for
Colombia. However, Colombia is at a disadvantage
because it depends heavily upon U.S. aid.
The U.S. plan to spray Fusarium oxysporum would
violate the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC),
which prohibits international transfers of
bioweapons and equipment. Some of Colombia's neighbors,
including Ecuador and Peru, have passed national
regulations to try to preempt U.S. bioweapons
pressure like that exerted on Colombia.
If biological warfare in the form of Agent Green
is used in Colombia, it may legitimize global
biological warfare on a larger scale. The Sunshine
project explains that Afghanistan is also on the
U.S. target list, as are other countries in South
Asia, Southeast Asia and Latin America.
Attempts to use Agent Green on illicit cannabis
crops within the U.S. were quashed by
environmental regulators in Florida. The Sunshine Project
terms the use of this fungal pathogen in Colombia
not only hypocritical but also colonialist. The use
of this generalist and highly persistent fungal
pathogen would legitimize biological warfare, and
provide a major threat to the health and
environment within Colombia.
Sources: The Temptation of Dr. Weed, Missoula
Independent, January 16, 2003; Press Release, New US
Bioweapons Threat on Colombia, The Sunshine
Project, 17 December 17, 2002,
Weapons Join Pesticides in Misguided "War on Drugs,"
PANUPS, Aug 1, 2000, PANNA Web site.
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