Today’s Washington Times has a fascinating article addressing a topic I have wondered about for years: that is, why don’t we fight poppy growers (Afghanistan) and coca growers (Columbia) with hi-tech chemicals targeted at those plants? Well, this article by Rachel Ehrenfeld and Aylana Meisel – “Turning the Battle Against Drugs: Herbicide Breakthrough Could End Poppy and Coca Crops” – contains interesting information about governmental efforts to fight narco-trafficking with bio-technology. (The authors also strongly argue for development aid to find replacement crops for poppy and coca cultivation.)
Here are several key paragraphs:
To seriously curtail the Afghan insurgency and global narcoterrorism, the U.S. must use effective eradication methods while subsidizing the cultivation of alternative crops. Most important, successful eradication of the Afghan drug trade will expedite the safe withdrawal of nearly 100,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
The U.S. must complete research on mycoherbicides – specialized bioherbicide agents designed to inoculate the soil against the growth of certain plants, ensuring that the targeted plants cannot be cultivated.
In January 2003, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime released the Research and Development of an Environmentally Safe and Reliable Biological Control Agent for Opium Poppy Summary Report. The research indicated that mycoherbicides do not have adverse health or environmental effects. They also are target-specific – they have no effects on plants they are not engineered to affect. Congress mandated further study on mycoherbicides in 2006, but the Office of National Drug Control Policy only contracted with the National Research Council to commence research in 2009 on the impacts of mycoherbicides and the feasibility of producing and implementing their use on a wide scale.
It is interesting that the U.S. agency tasked with studying this approach to fighting drug-trafficking took 3 years to get further research under way. That sounds like a typical bureaucratic attempt to kill a program or concept. Delay, delay, delay. Wait until a new administration comes into office; then let the initiative die. Hopefully, the Office of National Drug Control Policy hasn’t acted dishonorably with regard to Congress’s intentions in this matter.
The authors conclude, “The dual mycoherbicide-alternative development approach would reduce the world’s supply of heroin and cocaine, severing the financial lifelines of terrorist organizations.” They urge President Obama to make the completion of congressionally-mandated study a priority because “[i]t could help the United States win the battle against the Taliban while seriously striking terrorist and criminal organizations the world over.” I agree and time is of the essence.