> Howdy, all--
> Thought this might interest you stupidity-watchers. Maybe they could
> introduce some cane toads, goats, cats, and what the heck anthrax and
> Ebola virus while they're at it.
> (Pardon my editorializing. And please note the next to the last
> sentence in the following story, which manages to palm off any
> previous biological mistakes on the mistakes themselves, rather than
> on the people who made them, and allow that to stand as evidence that
> it can't happen again. :^)
> The person who sent it to me indicated it was in the electronic
> edition of the /New York Times/ this morning.
> (who also opines that "Ag/Bio Con" is the perfect name for such a biz)
> > Marijuana-Eating Fungus Seen as Potent
> > Weapon, but at What Cost?
> > By RICK BRAGG
> > IAMI -- For decades, the hard part for drug agents stalking
> > Florida's marijuana growers was finding their crop.
> >The growers
> > weave their plants among corn stalks and even tomato vines
> >to foil aerial
> > searches. In swamps, growers make berms out of muck and chicken
> > wire and plant their crop, leaving fat, black water
> >moccasins to stand
> > guard.
> > Hidden in Florida's lush landscape, the camouflaged marijuana plants
> > often foiled the small army of officers, helicopters and
> >drug-sniffing dogs.
> > Now, the new head of the state's Office of Drug Control
> >hopes to kill
> > Florida's lucrative marijuana business in the very ground
> >in which it
> > thrives, by someday dusting suspected areas with a marijuana-eating,
> > soil-borne fungus, Fusarium oxysporum. It is a plan that has some
> > politicians and Florida drug enforcement officials excited, and some
> > environmentalists very worried.
> > The fungus, a bioherbicide engineered specifically to
> >attack plants like
> > marijuana, is otherwise harmless, said Ag/Bio Con, the Montana
> > company that developed it.
> > "Is it safe, and does it work?" asked Jim McDonough, who
> >was hired by
> > Gov. Jeb Bush this year to head Florida's Office of Drug Control.
> > "I've heard some of the top scientists in the country say,
> >'Yes.' " But
> > McDonough, who served as Director of Strategy for Barry R.
> > McCaffrey, the White House drug czar, said the fungus would not be
> > used here until it was tested in rigidly controlled
> >conditions at a Florida
> > site.
> > "When you deal with science, you deal with the cost of advancing and
> > what is the cost of not advancing," said McDonough, who pointed out
> > that 47 percent of the marijuana seized in the United
> >States is taken here
> > -- and much of it is home-grown. Most years, drug agents
> >destroy more
> > than 100,000 plants, and one year, 1992, they destroyed more than
> > 240,000 plants.
> > "With prudence and with care, make your choices," he said.
> > McDonough said he has not yet presented the plan to Bush.
> > But in Florida, a state that has seen its environment ravaged by
> > supposedly harmless plants that thrived so well in a damp,
> >hot climate
> > that they overwhelmed indigenous plants, some environmentalists say
> > introducing the fungus is risky, that it could mutate and
> >cause disease, not
> > only in wild plants but in crops as well.
> > "I personally do not like the idea of messing with mother
> >nature," said Bill
> > Graves, senior biologist at the University of Florida
> >Research Center in
> > Homestead. "I believe that if this fungus is unleashed for
> >this kind of
> > problem, it's going to create its own problems. If it isn't executed
> > effectively, it's going to target and kill rare and
> >endangered plants."
> > David Struhs, Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental
> > Protection, spelled out the dangers in a letter to
> >McDonough dated April
> > 6, 1999.
> > "Fusarium species," he wrote, "are capable of evolving rapidly.
> > Mutagenicity is by far the most disturbing factor in
> >attempting to use a
> > Fusarium species as a bioherbicide.
> > "It is difficult, if not impossible," he wrote, "to
> >control the spread of
> > Fusarium species."
> > The mutated fungi can cause disease in a large number of
> >crops, including
> > tomatoes, peppers, flowers, corn and vines, he wrote, and
> >are "normally
> > considered a threat to farmers as a pest, rather than as a
> > Fusarium species are more active in warm soils and can
> >stay resident in
> > the soil for years. Their longevity and enhanced activity
> >under Florida
> > conditions are of concern, as this could lead to an
> >increased risk of
> > mutagenicity."
> > What that means, say environmentalists, is that it is hot
> >here much of the
> > time, and living things behave differently in Florida than
> >almost anywhere
> > else in this country.
> > "In principle, I am very supportive of using biological
> >agents against
> > narcotic plants," said Raghavan Charudattan, professor of plant
> > pathology and weed science at the University of Florida.
> >"This needs to
> > be researched well or it could lead to great danger."
> > State officials have agreed to quarantine testing of the
> >fungus -- at a
> > facility outside Gainesville usually used for, among other
> >things, studying
> > citrus canker, a catastrophic plant disease that has
> >ruined whole orchards
> > -- and for now any use of the fungus is probably years away.
> > But McDonough has some powerful allies, including
> >Representative Bill
> > McCollum, a Republican from Longwood, Fla. McDonough is planning
> > to try to obtain part of a $23-million Congressional allocation for
> > research in eradicating plants like marijuana, and having
> >an ally like
> > McCollum, as well as some Republican fund-raisers who back the idea,
> > could be helpful.
> > In Peru, angry farmers have recently accused the United
> >States of using a
> > soil fungus to destroy coca in the Upper Huallaga Valley,
> >saying that
> > fungus has spread to banana, yucca, tangerine and other food crops,
> > according to The Miami Herald.
> > American officials, while acknowledging in June that they
> >had spent $14
> > million on research to develop such biological agents
> >against poppy, coca
> > and marijuana, denied the charges.
> > In Florida, history has taught scientists to be cautious
> >of introducing any
> > foreign, living thing into the environment. While pythons
> >as long as pickup
> > trucks have occasionally been found under houses in South
> >Florida, most
> > of the problems have been with vegetable matter.
> > Kudzu, a Chinese vine that has grown rampant in the South since its
> > introduction in the 1920's to thwart soil erosion, has
> >swallowed houses
> > and acres of roadside in Florida, as it grows a foot a
> >day. Melaleuca
> > trees, planted decades ago to help drain the Everglades because they
> > suck up so much water, have infested hundreds of thousands of acres.
> > Jerry Brooks, assistant director of the state Department
> >of Environmental
> > Protection's Division of Water Resources, said the
> >difference between
> > those plants and the fungus is that the state has learned
> >to be careful.
> > "Mistakes made in the past," Brooks said, "make sure proper
> > precautions are being taken."
> > "They were not tested," he said of the infamous plants.
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