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Poppy Fields
Britain's Secret War On Drugs
Monday October 2 2000
Reporter Tom Mangold
Producer Aidan Laverty
Researcher David Lee




Aidan Laverty answered your questions on the issues raised in Britain's Secret War On Drugs in a live webcast. Click on the link below to watch coverage of the forum
Video56K

Panorama goes inside the former biological warfare factory that is producing a fungus capable of destroying the world's illicit heroin harvests. And it's being funded by the British taxpayer.

Scroll down for related links

Scientists in the plant in Uzbekistan are trying to perfect the Pleospora fungus that kills the opium poppy - source of the world's illegal heroin supply.

Mike Greaves
Mike Greaves
But the research work may already be running out of control. Mike Greaves, the British scientist who is the secret project's expert consultant, admits in a rare interview that he cannot be certain the fungus is 100% safe.

Despite this Greaves, a micro-biologist from Bristol, is convinced the fungus is a `sensational' answer to the world's heroin problem. He says: "I love the project, it's one of the most exciting projects that I've been involved in."

Professor Paul Rogers
Professor Paul Rogers
Professor Paul Rogers, a leading British plant pathologist warns: "The fungus sounds like a silver bullet but it could easily become a poisoned chalice. Once you develop a technology to spread plant diseases intentionally you are developing a technology which could easily be misused by bad people against legitimate food crops."

Although the United Nations Drugs Control Programme is fronting the fungus project, it is the Americans who are the real sponsors with the British making a 100,000 contribution. No other country has been persuaded to contribute to the programme.

Pleospora fungus
The deadly Pleospora fungus
Both London and Washington have pledged to use the fungus against Afghanistan poppies only with target government consent. Observers are puzzled why the project continues given the certainty that the Muslim fundamentalist Taleban who run the country and take substantial revenues from the deadly crop will never agree.

Tony White, until recently the Chief of UNDCP's Supply and Reduction Enforcement Department, claims he was recently told in the USA of discussions within the UNDCP where "at one point it was seriously considered trying to get the Afghan government in exile in Islamabad to agree to the application of the fungus."

Confidential documents acquired by Panorama from the UNDCP office in Vienna highlight the UN's own fears about the project they are fronting. They concede the fungus may be difficult to contain once released, and that there remains a very 'remote possibility' that the fungus will affect other species and may even 'transform or mutate'.

You are simply opening things out for a wider spread of this kind of technology

Professor Paul Rogers
Critics of Britain's involvement in the Pleospora fungus project fear that unless the programme receives further funding from London and Washington the cash-strapped Institute in Tashkent may be tempted to deal with private organisations. This could eventually lead to biological weapons falling into the hands of gangsters.

Professor Rogers is deeply concerned: "If things drift into the private sector then who are the paymasters? You are simply opening things out for a wider spread of this kind of technology."

There is added concern that if the fungus is used against illicit drug harvests, then drug cartels could themselves acquire the technology and in revenge attacks, use a form of agricultural terrorism against Britain or the U.S.

Related links:

The Drug Problem

BBC News - West funds anti-opium fungus

BBC News - In Depth: The Global Drugs Trade

UN Drug Control Programme

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


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Britain's Secret War On Drugs
Tom Mangold visits a former Soviet biological warfare plant
Britain's Secret War On Drugs
Mike Greaves defends the Pleospora project

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