Killer Fungus in Florida?

Florida could become the first state to engage in biological warfare within its own borders, if Florida Drug Czar Jim McDonough gets his way.
McDonough is pushing hard for Florida to release genetically modified strains of a fungus called Fusarium oxysporum, generally known as a pest which blights tomatoes, peppers, flowers, corn, vines, and many other crops.

In late 1998, Florida Congressman Bill McCollum and Senator Bob Graham pushed through a $23 million appropriation for developing genetically modified “biological control agents” to eradicate marijuana and coca.

All of that money was supposed to be spent on overseas research, but now McDonough is trying to get some of the cash to use fusarium in his state. McDonough joined Governor Jeb Bush?s administration fresh from working with federal Drug Czar General McCaffrey.

Impossible to control

US Department of Agriculture scientists have been working to develop genetically modified strains of fusarium designed to target specific plants, like coca, poppy and marijuana. Head of the USDA?s Biocontrol of Plant Diseases is Dr Robert Lumsden at the University of Montana. Dr Lumsden has already developed a version of fusarium genetically enhanced to target coca plants. In 1995 it was tested on federal coca fields in Hawaii.

Yet despite fusarium?s popularity with some scientists, others consider it a danger. David Struhs, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, explained his concerns about the fungus in a letter to McDonough.

“Fusarium species are capable of evolving rapidly,” wrote Struhs. “The fungus could mutate, spread and kill off everything from tomatoes to endangered plants. It is difficult, if not impossible, to control the spread of fusarium species.”

Yet despite their concerns, the Departments of Agriculture and Environmental Protection caved in and agreed to support initial fusarium tests, but only at quarantine labs in Gainesville.

Ironically, Florida has already been host to some of the worst biological disasters in the US. The state is over-run with Australian melaleuca trees and a Chinese vine called Kudzu, both imported by the state government long ago to help with other aspects of the environment.

Montana NORML lawsuit

In mid-August, Montana NORML filed suit against Montana State University, demanding release of all documents relating to the development of cannabis-killing fungi.

“What’s particularly abhorrent about the cannabis-killing manufactured organism being created in a Montana laboratory,” said Montana NORML Director John Masterson, “is the fact that the Montana House of Representatives just passed a pro-industrial hemp resolution.”

? John Masterson of Montana NORML: tel (406) 542-8696.

Fusarium in use

The Miami Herald has reported on farmers in Peru who claim that US use of anti-coca fusarium fungus has led to the destruction of yucca, banana, tangerine and other crops. Peruvian campesinos have testified that in 1991 they saw DEA helicopters dropping fusarium pellets onto coca fields.

Fusarium is already being put to agricultural use, sold commercially under the brand names Biofox C and Fusaclean. In Africa, fusarium is being used to attack striga, a plant which chokes out wheat and sorghum. Less virulent strains of fusarium are also used to “innoculate” soil and plants against other more potentially harmful strains.

Of course, the ultimate consequences of spreading large quantities of this highly adaptable and virulent fungus into agricultural fields is unknown.

? USDA Biocontrol of Plant Diseases Laboratory: