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Archive for Sunday, July 16, 2000

Colombia rejects tests with coca fungus

July 16, 2000

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— 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 U.S. 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 Friday, adding that: "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 U.N. 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 nearly 300,000 acres 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 U.S.-funded testing program were accurate. The New York Times reported on July 6 that the Colombian government had agreed to such a program under U.S. pressure.

Colombians wonder why the U.S. 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 on Saturday. "Is destroying coca a mission to be carried out at any cost, without any considerations?"

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