BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Audio/Video: Programmes: Panorama
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 
Programmes 

banner
Britain's Secret War On Drugs, Monday October 2 2000

The forum is now closed.
The world is a very scary place. It scares me that while the use of biological weapons is illegal in conventional war, there appears to be no restriction on developing biological weapons for the so called "war on drugs". The war on drugs is a war that can never be won. While some may maintain that biological warfare is the answer, it plainly is not. Eliminating supply is not even half the answer. Basic economics tells us that the less of a product is available, the higher the price will rise, until such time as a replacement product is developed. I can only wonder if the biologists in Monday's Panorama know something which has been eluding professional economists for the past 80 years.
J D Perkins
London

The risk of introducing the fungus, especially a GM version cannot be justified. Mutated forms could destroy food crops on a national scale. People who are minded to use heroin will soon find another substance to abuse.
Colin Soames
Peterborough

We continually develop new weapons to prevent the destruction of our families and way of life. We should have no reservations in using them, we are already at war and are attacked aggressively and maliciously. But of course, the weapon must hit only it's target. It may be better to confront all the dealers/pushers with life imprisonment for attempted murder.
K.Farley
Manchester

Given the breadth of comment already I will try and just give bullet points:- 1- the 'demand' will find something else. 2-the growers will find an anti-fungicide. 3-It is an existing natural fungus, any mutations can happen anyway. 4-it seems very attractive solution, but it's an illusion. They need to focus on reducing demand. Even so, congratulations, the programme addresses real issues.
Dave Pearce
Manchester England

The drug culture that exists in society today will find another source of supply whatever. Destroying the coca and poppy related drugs will only provoke the cartels to manufacture a synthetic replacement. The crux of the problem is that many third world countries rely upon the drug trade to generate much needed capital and bargaining power. The root of the problem is still the corruption of governments, the financial trappings on both sides of the law. Stamp out corruption and you will have better control of what is a multi billion pound industry.
Roland Thomas
Lydney, Glos

To me this was a simplistic and flawed look at the war on drugs. I emerged from the programme knowing no more about the issue that I had been told in the 1 sentence review in the newspaper TV schedule. It ignored several key aspects, that are vital to the topic: 1. In taking the 'war' into 'enemy territory' there was no reference made to the fact that we are placing the onus on other countries to solve a problem we have. We have the demand for these drugs, yet we expect other people to solve it. 2. In simply wiping out the crops of peasant farmers who grow the drugs, no reference is made to how this will effect them. Most of them grow drugs either under duress, or because other crops are not economically viable. We will be creating more poverty to solve our own country's drug habit, when some schemes have been successful in encouraging the growth of other crops by supporting the farmer; no mention was made of this. 3. No mention was made of the rightwing paramilitary groups, linked to both the governments of many South American countries and the drug cartels, and how they effect attempts to stop the trade in other countries. 4. There are other topics such as US military aid and the FARC in Columbia etc. all of which are relevant and important, yet ignored.
Tomas Rawlings
Bristol

Is it not the morally right course of action to go ahead whether the countries involved agree or not. The western governments should then subsidise the local farmers through a transition period.
George Graham
Glasgow

www.digitalurbanmafia.com/kogi - "For the Colombian Mamo (shaman), the Ayu (coca) is one of the main sacred plants: it is the thought, the spirit, it is the axis, it is all; it is the essence of Nature herself, and enables us to talk, to enter into communication with beings of other dimensions; it enables us to address the whole world, the Universe. It is like the thought, the spirit, like the essence through which it conveys itself to other dimensions. This is the function that Ayu performs for us natives."
The coca plant is an integral part of the Kogi way of life, deeply involved with their traditions, religion, work and medicine. Perhaps the most ancient use of coca in South America is its employment in shamanistic practises and religious rituals. The mild mental excitation induced by chewing the coca leaves enables the shaman to enter more easily into a trance state in which he could communicate with the spiritual forces of nature and summon them to his aid.
Cosmic Bandito
Earth

If the environmental damage caused by both agents is small enough, and the possible militant reaction by the Taliban and Colombian cartels is also gauged as small enough, then I think that the biological agents should be deployed even if it amounts to an act of war on the respective nations
Geoffrey Alderton-Ford
Dover

The biol. warfare as proposed by the scientists should have the utmost support of all governments. Another example of stupidity of governments knowing about what can be done BUT not doing anything about it. Bomb the fields with the fungi spores. If Saddam Hussein can use poison gas on his people why don't we use the biol. warfare on the fields in those countries that do not abide by the international laws anyway, to end the misery caused to the western youth by indiscriminate use and peddling of hard class a drugs in return for massive profits by gangsters. I plea that we give them a taste of their own medicine and the US and UK should stop their piddling about and get on with it. We have the means to put a stop to cocaine & heroin addiction - USE IT.
John Petruska
Swindon

I am from Colombia, and married to an English man. I love UK as much as I love Colombia. Watching your programme yesterday left me in a complete rollercoaster of emotions. How could it be possible that the UK will get together with US in this biological war? I thought British people were people of principle. My country has 30 million inhabitants, included all my family , and I can guarantee you that most of them are honourable , good, loyal and hard working people. There is a lot of hate for my country in many countries of the world, but who is the rest of the world to hate us? We as Colombians probably have more reasons to hate it. My friends were killed by Mafia, the windows of my house have been changed twice because of bombs, not counting that guerrilla wants to kidnap everyone and my parents like many other, did not have other choice but to send me out of the country.

The Drug problem should be tackled in the countries where it is used and directly with the people involved

Claudia Salazar-Lewis, London
My family was separated because of merciless and cruel people like narcotraficans. And on top of that , we have to be punished with a fungus that will kill only God knows what, just because cocaine is produced in our country? This is absurd. The Drug problem should be tackled in the countries where it is used and directly with the people involved. Leave the innocent people out of the equation. Don't you think this will be more sensible? The Dr. from the US that developed the fungus for the cocaine said that it should be taken to Colombia even without authorisation of the Government. He said that you should look into the US rehabilitation clinics. Has US or UK looked into our clinics, where children as little as 3 year old are dying of cancer because of unscrupulous fumigation by plane to the drug fields??
Claudia Salazar-Lewis
London

Not only are Western democracies happy to ignore the fact that 40 years of drug prohibition has fuelled the worst kind of organised crime, political corruption, poverty and the erosion of human rights the world over, but now it looks like the politicians will lead them into producing an unparalleled environmental catastrophe in the third world as well. The culture of prohibition must end. Vote for those who oppose this insanity. STOP THE WAR ON DRUGS.
Jonathan Baker-Bates
London

Only to be expected. When people are in great pain and/or dying the state gives opiates. If people are young, on the surface fit & are taking illegal drugs in order to ease the pain of a limited life with few prospects & little hope, they must be stopped. They are used as an excuse to strengthen laws, restrict personal freedoms, develop biological weapons (hey! once those GM 'weedkillers' are developed, they can be used for all crops). Some plants will only be allowed to be grown by the state. God has no say. Why not try to make a world where people don't want to escape from it?
Dave Saxon
Sheffield

Regardless of any dictatorial or anti democratic government refusing permission for use of safe destruction of drug producing plants the USA and BRITISH governments should go ahead regardless. For the sake of humanity.
Adrian Makepeace
Coventry

Trying to inflict prohibition by proxy with regard to drugs will not work as it did not work against alcohol. It will be worse if bio warfare is used: as if America bombed other countries making alcohol in the 1920's. Addiction is a spiritual malady. I'm a recovered alcoholic and now free from tobacco as well. Both those addictions are worse than heroin and cocaine. I know the bio warfarers are wrong and will unleash more illness than they think they are curing.
Anonymous
Hull


The weapons should be used with or without the permission of the producer countries

John Clarke, Wolverhampton
The sooner the Biological Weapons Described in the programme are used to destroy the poppy and the coca plants the better as I do not see any other realistic way of irradicating the scourge of heroin and cocaine. The weapons should be used with or without the permission of the producer countries. The political incorrectness of such action is subservient to the achievement of the objective, i.e. the elimination of drugs.
John Clarke
Wolverhampton

This new method that has been developed has the right idea - to abolish drugs but I don't think that this is the right way to go about it! The decision that will be made behind closed doors will effect every person living on this earth. It is a biological time bomb - it may be safe now but will it be safe in 10 years when this fungus has had the chance to mutate? It could backfire and wipe out the world's food supply - then where would we be. This could be the start of biological warfare. What is to say that the drugs barons won't fight back with a biological weapon? I don't think that we have the right to play with the world's resources like this it is just wrong!!!
Pippa
Nottingham

It seems to me that the programme failed to answer two key questions on the use of this fungus. 1. If this fungus got out of control, could they stop it? 2. Would it not be possible for the drugs barons to cross their crops with other plants to come up with a new plant that was possibly resistant to this fungus. In my view the governments of the west seem to believe that the supply of drugs causes many of societies problems. The truth of the matter is that societies problems create the demand for the drugs, which in turn creates the supply.
James Folan
Manchester

The main issue here is the arrogance of those suggesting use of the fungus without consent of the producing nations. Consider tobacco, an addictive drug which happens to be legal but has a death rate among users of 1%/yr in the UK, comparable to heroin at 1.5%/yr. Western multinationals market tobacco in developing nations using advertising aimed at children (illegal over here). This is done with the knowledge of our governments, and we call it free trade: people should be free to choose what to consume and we're happy to provide what they want. In the case of heroin/cocaine the boot is on the other foot, so we demonise the drugs, ignore any other factors involved in their abuse, and conveniently it all becomes the fault of the producers. I find this attitude terrifying. What hope for stable international relationships if the dominant nations impose their will in such an inconsistent fashion? Morality is about impartial application of a set of values, not about whether a consensual act happens to be illegal or not.
Graham
London

I cannot believe the attitudes of some of the scientists. They think that destroying poppy crops will result in the drug trafficking and drugtaking disappearing.

Even if they did demolish the opium plants, youth and drug orientated dealers would suffice with the much more harmful man-made drugs

Jan Graveson, London
Firstly, the use of this fungi is terrifying, the consequences on the environment alone are highly questionable, and if a GM fungi were used there would be untold widespread disaster on a world-wide scale. I feel the drug problems belong to people and the society we live in. The US government are spending billions on this project. Let us not forget that even if they did demolish the opium plants, youth and drug orientated dealers would suffice with the much more harmful man-made drugs such as ecstasy, tamarzipam, barbiturates, LSD etc.
Jan Graveson
London

The brutal economics of the illegal drug market mean crop eradication efforts can never succeed, even in the improbable event that US and UK attempts to develop "safe" GM fungal pathogens to attack drug crops proved successful . The vast profits to be made means that when crops are destroyed production simply moves to other areas. Since crop eradication began in Colombia (using powerful herbicides) tens of thousands of acres of coca crops have been destroyed yet total cocaine production has increased threefold. Even if every coca plant and opium poppy in Colombia and Afghanistan were destroyed production would move to another country. Even if the species were entirely eliminated synthetic production of both drugs (which is already possible) would soon fill the void. This is a demand led market, and a market entirely free from any of the controls exercised in legitimate markets. The entire crop eradication programme needs to be viewed in the context of US strategic and economic interests. The US has long used the "War on Drugs" as a smokescreen to pursue various military agendas in South America (and elsewhere) that would not be publicly acceptable under any other banner. That these programmes continue despite their utter futility must raise suspicions and it is deeply worrying that the UK and the UN have been drawn into this nasty business. The UK should have nothing to do with this madness, either through financial assistance, or through tacit support of the US or the UNDCP programmes. Real solutions to the complex problems of drug producer countries exist but they do not involve with increasing militarisation of the drug war and the release of killer fungus epidemics into fragile ecosystems.
Steve Rolles
Bristol

It makes me angry that Britain and the States are very quick to dilapidate crops that they do not tax.

Just because a minority of people become alcoholics we don't stop the rest of the country enjoying the occasional drink

Mel Crosby, Worthing
Would it not be an idea for these countries to develop a fungus for the tobacco plant, if they are really worried about their citizens health. I would like to state for the record that I am a smoker and occasional cocaine user. Just because a minority of people become alcoholics we don't stop the rest of the country enjoying the occasional drink.
Mel Crosby
Worthing

It's all very well tackling the war against drugs in this way, however this poses a great threat to humanity if this sort of technology is misused, and developed. Is this wise? We must ask ourselves why are such narcotics so fundamentally damaging to society; is it not societies view on drugs that forces and creates such illicit and immoral activity. Let's ask the question, why is heroin so bad?
John Gow
Edinburgh

Is it worth risking the ecological well-being of our planet? In perspective less than 100 people die every year in the UK from heroin use. Drug use of other non-biological substances will simply increase anyway - regardless of whether heroin or cocaine exist. The only way is through controlled legalisation and education. I suggest that the USA government sprays the fungus on the white house lawns for a couple of months to test its safety.
Bruce
London

I don't see how anyone should have the right to wipe any form of life off this planet, the plant is not the problem its a social and economic problem - why look to plants for scapegoat.
John
Notts

I'm angry. Surely, drug taking is an act of individualism. Why make a collective risk - no matter how small - to counter this.
Jamie Beddard

Stephen Hawkins predicts that the human race will not survive another 1000 years. I would put it much sooner than that if we don't stop tampering with nature. Have we learnt nothing from previous ecological mistakes? If natural crops are destroyed, drugs will simply continue to be chemically produced. Human ignorance and arrogance never fail to astound me. When it comes from a world power like the US, we should truly worry.
Ronelle MacGregor
London

I watched your programme with interest on the subject of eradicating the supply of illicit drugs to the 'world' i.e. those countries who feel they can gain a significant political advantage through their virulent opposition to this trade, however I thought that they evaded an important discussion point which is that now these drugs have become an integral part of the social fabric of western societies it is naive to carry the belief that use can be removed with the support of the younger population.

A responsible attitude to the use and particularly the dissemination of information regarding the safe use of drugs is a much more powerful form of preventing deaths than prohibition

Tom Wellings, London
What some of these people do not seem to realise is that far from being the silver bullet that saves, it is in fact for some the silver cloud lining that offsets the overbearing control attitude of modern life. I truly do believe that a responsible attitude to the use and particularly the dissemination of information regarding the safe use of drugs is a much more powerful form of preventing deaths than prohibition. Unfortunately this is not a vote winning solution. The issues surrounding genetic modification of fungi or any other plants/animals are rooted in morals as well as human safety and undoubtedly caution should be exercised. However is it possible that there exists a better solution to the drug problem than those which are currently considered? Is it not somewhat hypocritical to chastise a country such as Colombia for supplying a product that is wanted the world over yet can cause poverty and distress when we are doing the same through our constructed ideals of material wealth and its associated connotations? I think that it is now accepted (as stated by the British drug enforcement interviewee) that drugs will continue to enter our country. If we choose to support a form of genetic eradication in areas outside our own jurisdiction then I do not see this as a positive move forward regarding the wellbeing of our population, rather solely as a publicity activity and yet another signal that if America leads us we will follow, blindly holding her hand.
Tom Wellings
London

I watched the report on the drug situation with great interest and thought that the fungi invented to destroy the plants in question was going in the right direction but was not of a natural source. There are natural solutions that can be found to do the same job. This is safer than what has been developed. As for the issue of the right of the US and Great Britain to use what ever means to destroy the crop. A biological war already exists in our countries, and I think we, our governments, should consider hitting back at the governments that are inflicting biological warfare on streets. When they say no to a natural and safe method of killing these plants, they are accepting an act of biological warfare against our countries.
Paul Robinson
Amsterdam

It is fine for tobacco from the USA to make such enormous profits from millions of drug addicts world-wide that they can afford to throw offensive amounts of money into sports such as F1 rather than helping the poor of Colombia and Afghanistan. Yet the poor of Colombia and Afghanistan should be prevented from making money from the drug they grow because unlike tobacco, governments have decided that their citizens have no right to decide for themselves.
John Smith
Bracknell

I am in agreement with the policy of eradicating all drug crops, but will the western governments also agree to destroy all tobacco crops in the same way as it is also causing suffering and misery to countless millions of people around the world or is it purely a political manoeuvre by the western governments. The C.I.A. is responsible for trafficking since the Vietnam war and England is responsible for peddling opium to the Chinese at turn of the last century or is that conveniently forgotten.
K. Su
Liverpool

It seems to me that before we use these weapons we need to be certain that they are safe to everything except the drug -bearing plants. Secondly, we need a policy for the poor of these countries. We will never get consent without a viable and acceptable alternative. Before we conduct this war we need the equivalent of a Marshall Plan in place. Provided these conditions are met then even without consent we are entitled to defend ourselves. A biological war is being conducted against us without any sense of restraint. It is a tribute to the Judeo-Christian values of the West that we agonise about such matters. We should not lower ourselves to the level of the Taleban or the Colombian drug lords. We are entitled to wage a just war in a just manner.
Ian Goodson
Birmingham

"Chris Davis... obviously has never seen the devastating effects they [drugs] have on people." (Margaret Macpherson) Actually, Maggie, I've watched lots of people periodically snorting coke for over a decade without being "devastated". They continue their lives as they did before. Sure, probably some become dangerously addicted, but I've never met any of them. In my own case, cocaine just makes my nose run - which is hardly "devastating" - but was enough for me to decide to pass up further opportunities to try it.
Chris Davis
Honiton

Fungal pathogens infect all of the world's food crops. Effective control agents have been developed and successfully used to control these pathogens. The same fungicidal control agents could easily be used to combat the fungal pathogens targeted at drug crops. Although this would be illegal, it would presumably not concern the drug producers. How can this concept of biological control be deemed promising if the producers have such an easy cure?
Colin Mills
Cambridge

Heroin consumption in Europe is a social problem with obvious social causes. Heroin addiction in Britain is most widespread amongst the poor and unemployed who live in depressed areas and have little prospects. There is a simple reason why western governments have chosen to ignore this and instead concentrate on destroying plants at source. This is because in order to alleviate the conditions which create the demand, social and economic change is necessary which is not acceptable to them - a fair distribution of resources and an end to the capitalist system in which poor Colombian peasants and workers in Britain are alike exploited.
Ben Kenward
Oxford

This programme highlights an issue of widespread importance, not least to the producing countries: why is no Colombian interviewed?! Secondly: why is the important fact omitted that Florida refused trial use of Dr.Sand's fungus (but Colombia is nevertheless considered)? Thirdly: for good balance, should there not at least be a brief mention of the victims at risk in such a war, the people of Colombia, and that country's bio-diversity, the richest in the world, still largely unexplored since von Humboldt first visited in the last century?
Benjamin Creutzfeldt
London

Excellent programme - except the creeping bias against genetic modification issues. Two examples (there were more): when asking a science commentator (in favour of the programme) about his expression of doubts about absolute safety, the cheap jibe - but science is about precision is made. Of course that is also the reason why scientists often have doubts, so should it really be framed as a criticism; in contrast when asking a proponent of the risks of combating drugs growing by using fungal pathogens, he says that genetic modification to enhance activity is very risky - it could show the way to modifying other harmful pathogens in the same way. Since the example of modification was by radiation induced mutation, such a mechanism is hardly likely to be of repeatable application. But the criticism is not of that alone, but the fact that that comment was allowed to go unquestioned - no cheap jibes here. I applaud a programme which raises these issues, as there are very real issues. I despair that the level of debate does not do justice to them.
A Poore
Cambridge


If it can be proven to be harmless to animals and humans, then it would be the ultimate weapon against drugs

R Pearce, Bournemouth
I think that if it can be proven to be harmless to animals and humans, then it would be the ultimate weapon against drugs and should proceed whether you get co-operation from the countries concerned or not - if the formula exists then even just talking about it would create the possibilities of it getting into the wrong hands - think of the amount of lives it would save. Best way would be to use Stealth aircraft over effected areas
R. Pearce
Bournemouth

The whole programme seemed to be softening us up for Plan Colombia. It was a propaganda piece for US foreign policy. The problem lies in the illegality of the drugs. Legalise the drugs, register addicts to receive what they need for their habit, as it was only thirty or forty years ago, and all this hysteria would end. The death and misery is caused by the crime related to the illegality of the drugs, the need to score, the exploitation of this by the cartels. It is all hysteria. The USA has other fish to fry: FARC and ELN, since the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, need funding for their war. They now rely on kidnap and drugs, where they could previously rely on ideology. The US decision to make another Vietnam of Colombia is to do with politics and the Monroe Doctrine, it is not about kids ODing in American hospitals.
Michael McEvoy
London

Interesting programme but once more it shows out inability to face the underlying issues facing global society. These plants have been of tremendous use in the field of pharmacology and medicine yet are doomed to what may be an ultimate extinction.
David Griffin
Leeds

Eradicating narcotic producing plants will not solve any government's drug problems. It will merely create a whole new set of unexpected problems. By wiping out the coca plant or opium poppy, drug usage would merely switch to similar drugs or synthetic analogues. No coca, no problem - have some crystal meth amphetamine, base speed, pcp,etc. No smack - try some methadone, temazepan, mandrax.etc.

The drug industry will just adapt their business practices to suit whatever climate prevails

Bill, Glasgow
The people who advocate this kind of short sighted policy are dangerously naive in thinking that an industry bigger than the oil industry will just wither and die when faced with problems in obtaining raw materials. The drug industry will just adapt their business practices to suit whatever climate prevails. Meanwhile our glorious leaders will concoct ever more insane solutions as they become more and more desperate to win a war that they are losing humiliatingly.
Bill
Glasgow

I read the forum with interest. To me it seems a lot of excuses supporting use of illegal drugs. The countries growing these drugs are at war with the rest of the world - why should 2 or 3 countries dominate. The money saved from enforcement and health related problems caused by these drugs could rebuild them quickly. As long as tests prove safe use it as soon as possible
M Granger
Scunthorpe

Superb documentary, well done. My only concern is that by highlighting how close the biological research work is to fruition, and hardening attitudes towards 'unilateral' destruction of crops, it could provide the drugs barons the incentive to take out those currently involved. I hope that the organisations involved have sufficient security measures in place.
Robert Norris
Fleet, Hants

Excellent programme - the use of these fungi should be seriously considered in the fight against drugs
Liam Macmahon
Skerries, Co. Dublin, Ireland

An interesting website relating to the abuse of biological weapons including this particular one is: www.sunshine-project.org.

Biological warfare, with its possibly calamitous environmental consequences, is a desperate solution to a problem which is human-based

Tom Goddard, London
I think, with the "war" on drugs, there is a danger that it could become an exercise in politicians portraying themselves as being tough on the drug menace from abroad, thereby garnering votes and deflecting attention away from the stickier task of dealing with the social and criminal factors in Britain and the US which are responsible for the huge consumer demand for illegal drugs. Essentially, biological warfare, with its possibly calamitous environmental consequences, is a desperate solution to a problem which is human-based. Until we concentrate on the people, both here and in the Third world who are responsible for the demand and supply of illicit drugs, rather than the plants themselves, then the situation won't change all that much. As for the consumers, here, they have a choice whether to take the drugs or not. If they're unfortunate enough to overdose, that's bad luck, however we shouldn't forget that consumption and "fashion" in this country drives the demand for drugs which ultimately culminates in the vicious and corrupt narcopolitics in the third world which affects many many more people in those societies who have no choice in the matter.
Tom Goddard
London

I can't believe what I saw last night, there are people out there who have no concept of what damage they could do. What in God's name do they think gives them the right to destroy some of the Earth natural plants. The scientists honestly think they are doing the world a favour when in reality they are simply learning how to eradicate one species without affecting the other.
Zaki
London

A very interesting programme. Suppose that Colombia discovered a fungus which would destroy the tobacco plant. Would the U.S. be happy to have this used? Tobacco kills many people and is at least as dangerous as cocaine.
Roger Parsons
Southampton

Once again the West seeks to solve its problems by avoiding its own responsibility and seeking to find a solution that punishes some of the world's poorest people. If there was no demand there would be no supply. For years chemicals have been dumped to try to kill the supply of these drugs and yet the market for them continues to expand. To tackle the drug problem you have to go to the source - that is the ever increasing demand.

We Colombians are all blamed for the drug problems of the West, even though the vast majority of Colombians have nothing to do with either the consumption or production of drugs

Sandra Alayon-Stanton, London
If this fungus is used it will damage the livelihood of some of the world's poorest farmers as well as the ecosystem of regions such as the Amazons - which may eventually impact on the ecosystem of the planet. It is reminiscent of the trade in hardwood. We all want Brazil and other Amazonian countries to stop cutting down the rain forest yet we continue to buy products made from that wood. As it happens I am Colombian and I strongly object to any use of illegal drugs, but I also strongly object to the illegal introduction of a fungus that might damage the ecosystem of my country. We Colombians are all blamed for the drug problems of the West, even though the vast majority of Colombians have nothing to do with either the consumption or production of drugs. To tackle the problem why are end users (here in the West) not punished? Why are people here not educated about the dangers of drugs? Either that or legalise & tax the whole trade. The truth is any of these options are not at politically expedient as finding a foreign enemy to blame & punish with chemical warfare.
Sandra Alayon-Stanton
London

I was disappointed that Panorama failed to mention that a gene designed to destroy the anti-coca fungus had already been patented (See http://www.narconews.com/). As with all US drug policy this issue has nothing to with public health and a lot to do with getting popular support for unpopular polices, such as the testing of biological weapons. If the drug barons already have access to a mechanism which counteracts the effects of Fusarium - what next? Well as always things will escalate - look at history. Just as drugs being made a crime led to drugs causing crime. The 'other side' will respond in kind - with biological warfare! Hopefully the drug barons are more humane that the US/UK governments and will only unleash a fungus which attacks their direct competitors, our deadly drug plants, the tobacco, hop and vine (rather than foodstuffs - the ultimate aim of this research). This is a dangerous escalator which even Hitler and Saddam held back from.
Alasdair Forsyth
Glasgow

I was genuinely worried and annoyed with the American attitude for releasing biological warfare on the poppy fields which produces heroin. It seems as if the US has no regard for debate or democratic opinion on the subject. Yes poppies are the cause for a great deal of suffering around the world but does that justify my children not seeing a poppy field (not that I have any yet but I intend to). Secondly they have no concrete evidence that the fungus will not mutate into something which could effect nature drastically. We need to stand up to the US and tell them not to bully the rest of the international community. They may be intentionally correct but I would rather the international community takes a joint decision on this, it effects all our lives. The US prides itself on it's constitution and democracy through the land. Now that they are the most powerful country in the world they should be leading the way in world democracy. The CIA operating covertly should not be allowed to be sheltered by the American state dept.
Sam Heaton
Barnstaple

Having seen the programme last night, I thought it very worrying as it appeared as if no thought had gone into the environmental issues, i.e. what organisms, insects and other wildlife need these plants to survive, and whether they can exist on alternative plant life. Would the poppy destroying mould only destroy one type of poppy or will it wipe out all other related species. Finally, I got the distinct impression that the American scientist has the intention of using his cocaine killer regardless of whether the Colombian government gives permission or not. This makes him a very dangerous man.
Greg Maitland
Ballyclare, NI


Why don't the governments just buy the raw product, it must be cheaper

G W Styles, Withyham
Thank you for a very interesting prog. Has anybody considered the retaliation from Columbia/Afghanistan if the fungus destroys their food crops as well? I'm far from convinced the drug problem requires such drastic action, why don't the governments just buy the raw product, it must be cheaper.
G W Styles
Withyham

It would appear that the biological war on drugs has, in any event, already gone to the next level. There was a press briefing on Sept. 19th, in which the Swiss company, Novartis, said it had invented a fungicide which will provide an antidote to the anti-coca fungus Fusarium. What next I wonder? How long before they appreciate you can't buck the market (even an illicit one)?
Mike Read
London

I, in no way, defend growing drug crops.

The choices people face in third world countries are a lot harder than the ones we face - If we didn't buy it, they wouldn't sell it

Alistair Hale, Walsall
But I have first hand experience of the dilemmas facing people with a stark choice of perhaps 15 a week for the rest of their lives, or several thousand immediately if they get involved in this sort of thing. ( I have some in-laws in Morocco - and have been approached myself by cannabis producers over there). In that situation you cannot possible expect all X million of them to behave like angels. So please stop trying to transfer moral responsibility somewhere else. The choices people face in third world countries are a lot harder than the ones we face. If we didn't buy it, they wouldn't sell it.
Alistair Hale
Walsall

Surely America and the rest of the western world must realise that tackling the issue of drugs at source will not solve the social problems that come with them. And if lessons have not be learned from previous campaigns of similar nature, like those carried out in the Peruvian and Bolivian jungles, and the serious ecological and humanitarian disasters that were a consequence of these acts, then when will learn. Unfortunately, I missed some of the programme, but I felt that international borders and especially the rights of the people within the countries discussed on the programme last night were understated. I also feel that there were political reasons for intervention in these countries that were also overlooked.
Donald Lunan
Edinburgh

The pathogenic organisms identified in the Panorama programme should be tested as thoroughly as possible in the laboratory to identify possible other host species that could be affected by them. Assuming following an extensive investigation no other hosts were identified then use should be sanctioned. Clearly no one is going to volunteer to use these methods, so given the problem of illicit drug running, this action is fully justified - even if there ARE minute risks to the environment. It is NEVER possible to PROVE ANYTHING is absolutely safe - only to prove that things may be harmful. Opponents are seeking 100% guarantees which do not exist in reality. As for the technology promoting the expertise for biological warfare development, this is already widely available, and it is almost laughable to suggest that anyone seeking to develop a biological weapon against food crops would start with either of these organisms.
B.J. McHugh
Torquay

The use of Biological warfare in the fight against drugs is, I believe, morally wrong and very dangerous both to ourselves and future generations. These plants (poppies, coca) are part of the Earth's natural biodiversity and may in future provide cures for diseases that may arise.

Drug lords may have the resources to acquire biological weaponry of their own to threaten food chains if their crops are attacked

Peter John, Carmarthen
Whether one believes in creation or evolution, these plants are natural occurring and it is the human misuse that is the problem not the plants themselves. Added to this, the engineered fungus could mutate and destroy food crops causing a world famine far worse than the current drug problem. Also drug lords may have the resources to acquire biological weaponry of their own to threaten food chains if their crops are attacked. We are not gods and have no right to destroy naturally occurring plants because we are too immature to handle them properly. It is throwing one rather large dummy out of the pram that could bounce back and really hurt us. Finally, I have never seen such outright arrogance as that demonstrated by the scientists developing these fungi. Maybe they should remember we are not above nature and what affects it will ultimately affect us.
Peter John
Carmarthen

The programme did not address the issue of legitimate pharmaceutical supplies. If the natural sources are eradicated, does this mean that all drugs will have to be synthetic? This will be extremely beneficial to the big drug companies and extremely damaging to world healthcare.
Jon Rouse
Chesterfield

An interesting programme that might have been better if there had been some questioning of the implicit assumption that Britain's drugs/crime problem is so terrible that considering biological warfare seems reasonable. Finally, the problem is one of demand for drugs not production. Why doesn't Britain do something about demand instead of sending plant plagues to producer countries?
Ian Smith
Manchester

Consideration must be given to the exploited peasant farmers whose only means of provision for their families is to grow the raw materials for their drug over-lords. Nevertheless, the view that these countries are already waging chemical warfare against us, and that any action on our part could be considered a response to provocation seems to carry some weight to me.
David Moorse
Newport, Isle of Wight

I would like to congratulate the makers of the programme for tackling this important but not highly publicised topic and for generating this important debate. Nevertheless, due to the complexities of the topic, many important and relevant issues did not get a mention, thus leading to misrepresentations of the stance taken by the producing countries.

The introduction of a fungus to this diverse environment could have catastrophic consequences not just for the Colombian environment but also for all of us

Patricia Williams, London
In the case of Colombia, the programme failed to explain the reasons why the government opted not to allow the spraying of coca crops to go ahead. There was no mention of the fact that Colombia ranks 4th in the world, in rich bio-diversity and that part of the nations coca growing plants are located in the Colombian Amazon forest. Therefore, the introduction of a fungus to this diverse environment could have catastrophic consequences not just for the Colombian environment but also for all of us. The programme also failed to mention the high price that has been paid by all nations involved in this trade not just the West. The people of Colombia and Peru for example have suffered and continue to suffer greatly from this evil trade. These nations have been devastated by violence, war, internal displacement, human rights violations, crime, and drug-addiction. These problems in many cases were not created by these developing countries (remember General Noriega and those who supported him the USA as part of its Cold War policy in Latin America until he became a liability?) nevertheless it will be they that will have to yet again pay the price for the West's hypocrisy. The programme should have presented the arguments in such a way that would discourage a them and us situation. The problem is far too complex and to date there are no miracle cures.
Patricia Williams
London

I was left wondering which side the programme supported - I came to the conclusion it had to be the drug barons
Peter Hillier
Bournemouth

I agree that we need to address the problems of drugs, but if we (or any country) barges in and kills off a country's drugs supply, who is going to fed and clothe the peasant farmers who (unfortunately) have come to depend on these crops for their survival. Many don't realise what they are involved in, just that they get better money for drug crops than food ones. It would be better for all concerned for the trade organisations to pay more for food to the farmers therefore encouraging them away from drug crops back to food ones. We then won't be responsible for starving a nation of farmers!
R Watson
Southampton

Firstly well done to the BBC for being aware of the fungi being developed around the world to eradicate drugs. However I felt one element was lacking in the programme, the environment. I have just returned from Ecuador, where I met many eminent conservationists who were deeply concerned about the use of this fungus in Colombia. Despite what the UNDCP and US government will inevitably tell you, the fungus has already been used in some remote areas. Many of these plantations are surrounded by tropical rainforest, some of which has apparently been damaged by the fungus. Dr.Sands told us that he has tested the fungus on 130 species and that it hasn't affected them; I find it hard to believe that someone who obviously lives in the rainforest can be so oblivious to the true number of (sometimes very fragile) species which exist in these areas, and which could be thus affected. I also heard in Ecuador that the fungus renders the soil pretty much barren, so how do these poor families reconstruct their lives after the US has charged in 'Nam' style and again shown us its unbelievable insouciance in thinking it knows best for the rest of the world and has a divine right to eradicate species and deprive people of a living.
Celeste Hicks
Darlington

How can anyone fail to see the direct purpose of destroying the world's opium and coca supplies?

If the worries about the fungi mutating and attacking food crops were resolved by thorough government-funded research then who could argue about the end result

Paul Phantis, Hertfordshire
I don't think that watching somebody close to you go through the pain of heroin addiction and the daily struggle of trying to stay off it can be compared with the moral, social, cultural and economic implications of wiping out a trade which should have no place in modern society. If the worries about the fungi mutating and attacking food crops were resolved by thorough government-funded research then who could argue about the end result - the eradication of heroin and cocaine addiction. I think the end definitely justifies the means.
Paul Phantis
Hertfordshire

This latest Panorama programme might better have been dubbed a pseudo-objective investigation into the drugs issue and the disgusting and hypocritical manner in which demons are constructed by the regrettable powers that be and used as justification for their own self-interest, prolonging discomfort for the vast majority of this planet's population and lining their own pockets in the process. Not only did the programme not address the question of whether there should be a war on drugs in the first place, it allowed a supposedly educated man put forth an argument in which the words 'green', supposedly meaning eco-friendly or at least prime time TV in union jack and stars and stripes land-friendly, and 'war' were used in conjunction. That western nations could even contemplate invading the territory of a third-world nation to carry out an act of unspeakable environmental, planetary, vandalism, or that a state which is supposedly at the forefront of advancing the state of mankind could have in its employ a man of said Mr Sands' misogynistic, unthinking, and horribly self-righteous attitude is indeed a sad reflection of the position to which we have descended. Do such viewpoints need to be given prominent air-time? Do so many journalists have to presume the words illegal and wrong to be interchangeable?
J.C.

War is being waged on our civilisation by cocaine and heroin. We should retaliate by destroying these crops. But your programme will have put the scientists working on the biological agents in severe danger!
Bryon Bache
Cambridge

The idea that Colombia should have this fungus released irrespective of their sovereign opinion because they produce a 'toxic and addictive drug' is hypocrisy par excellence. Most heroin and cocaine users never have a problem with the drug. Tobacco kills a third of its users. Which one should we have a war on? Also, the real factor is not heroin availability but the causes of use. Why is heroin use on the increase in the USA and UK but not in Continental Europe, where it's just as available. Perhaps if we redirected our effort into the social factors that cause drug problems rather than the existence of the drug then we would get real benefits. All scarcity will do is make the price higher. Thus the casual users will be priced out of the market, but those with real problems who steal to feed their habit will simply have to steal more to pay the higher prices.
Merrick Godhaven
Leeds

We were horrified by the contents of the programme. Although we can appreciate the losing battle against drugs the thought of letting loose this chemical to wreak havoc on the natural world is unthinkable!! There has to be a safer way to stamp out this hideous problem. The Russian and the American scientists quite frankly frightened the life out of us!! It's about time we British lead the way rather than being lead by the nose by the Americans.
P & B Hill
Manchester

Clearly, there are many drug peddlers and users amongst the respondents.

Use of the fungus is not biological warfare because it does not aim to harm people

Edwin Lee, High Wycombe
They have given the kind of answers that one hears so much by drug peddlers on infamous talk shows, with total absence of moral compass. They are petrified that the source to big easy profits might dry up overnight. Use of the fungus is not biological warfare because it does not aim to harm people. However, the fungus is clearly not a workable solution on its own. Otherwise, the many problems that many respondents raised will materialise. I believe that all civilised countries will agree to test and use the fungus via UN resolutions, provided that the case for its use is properly researched and convincingly presented.
Edwin Lee
High Wycombe

If the farmers of Afghanistan and Colombia (and many other countries) received a fair return for their farming of crops for cash and food, they might never have been keen to grow crops deemed illegal. My reading of last night's Panorama programme was that, yet again, a technological fix was being sought for what is really a socio-economic and political problem - of the Europeans and Americans, not of those farmers. In the short term the use of the fungi described in the programme could be devastating not only to the poppies (and so make a lot more people poor and dependant on 'aid') but also, possibly to a whole host of other plants. In the very long term, the world's biological systems are robust and would, no doubt, eventually get over the shock of the attack on some of its species - and would eventually come up with some more hallucinogens for those humans that remain to blow their brains with. That's a lousy excuse for saying 'Go ahead' with the eradication of poppy and coca - the US and UK may have the power but have no right to act in the way described.
Robin Le Mare
Tottenham, London

I think it is a good to start a war on hard drugs and to use chemical weapons to do so. But there needs to be enough testing performed before the chemicals are released into the atmosphere
Luke Anthony
Reading

It is a good thing to wage a war against drugs which ruins the lives of innocent people. I would like to know which type of strategy (attack or defensive) you have adopted in this?
K. Raja Gopal
Secunderabad, India

Secret war on drugs? Sounded like a very expensive, dangerous and probably illegal experiment. The government would be better off legalising all drugs and remove the most serious drug 'problems' at a stroke:- Drug addicts would be able to get clean & legal supplies, allowing them to get on with their lives. Criminal gangs would lose their income overnight. The Government would find a new source of income. The courts & prisons would be freed of all drug-related cases. Third world farmers would make a reasonable income. Obvious common sense?
John

It was disturbing to see the final comment of the US scientist, who wanted to use the virus without national government permission. He is of course avoiding the fact that the demand is from the US. Also that the US, UK, etc., export weapons on a massive scale, causing more deaths than all drug use together does. And there is NO demand from the local population for this. A frighteningly imperialist attitude.
Dafydd Ladd
Beulah, Ceredigion

I was surprised that the programme focussed so heavily on the scientific dangers behind releasing biological agents.

There is a far greater 'ethical' question of whether any Government should be allowed to eradicate a plant that does no harm to the environment for political motives

Anthony, London
Whilst these are important issues, there is a far greater 'ethical' question of whether any Government should be allowed to eradicate a plant that does no harm to the environment for political motives. When the phoney war on drugs finally ends people will look back in astonishment that we should go to such trouble and take such risks to limit human choice. Was this deliberately not addressed and if so why?
Anthony
London

Much is made about the economic value of the drugs trade and the cost of cleaning up the aftermath of its effect, but how much thought has been given to the economics of the trade. For example how much laundered drug money underpins the Western world? What would happen to Western economies if the illegal drug trade was closed down? It seems inconceivable that any new biological measures would wipe the trade out. More likely less crops would be produced and distributed therefore increasing the street price. Is there any evidence that this will have an impact on demand? If so, will the market for synthetic drugs increase? At least with farmed drugs the authorities know the source and how to track them, with chemical manufacture this task must be more difficult. It is time that the economic arguments of the trade were clearly presented and understood. Only then can a workable strategy be devised. Locking up gangsters doesn't destroy the global business in which they operate and applying a biological version of Agent Orange may well produce residual problems physically and economically. All these problems must be discussed before taking action, however attractive it may be to governments and public opinion.
Peter Clarke
Nottingham

Reading the responses here to the programme, I find it deeply depressing that so many people should swallow the line, that anything is justified in the "War on Drugs".

The problems of addiction are greatest in those countries that have the most severe restrictions on drugs, not the least

Antony Rawlinson, London
Of course, there are some serious problems associated with the use of heroin and cocaine, but to call for a military response of any kind, let alone biological warfare, is simply panicky. It is entirely untrue to claim that "everything else has been tried". The reality is that the problems of addiction are greatest in those countries that have the most severe restrictions on drugs, not the least. In the Netherlands, the heroin problem has been largely eliminated by providing a safe, controlled supply of the drug to registered addicts, thereby allowing them to live more or less normal lives. This effective, humane, non-confrontational and cost-effective solution works ... but the hotheads in both the US and UK governments are too ideologically tied to the failed policies of drug prohibition to see it. This is without even considering the environmental risks of the GM fungus, or the morality of waging war on impoverished 3rd World peasants, or the hypocrisy of continuing to push the real killer drug, tobacco, onto the world's markets.
Antony Rawlinson
London

I was very disturbed by what I saw on the Panorama programme last night. It is nave and irresponsible to suggest that use of designer fungi in the drugs war will have no repercussions on crops other than those targeted. Even more alarming is the use of genetic engineering techniques which have potentially catastrophic consequences on the environment. One of the scientists interviewed last night concluded that the fungi for killing opium plants does not effect any other species. This conclusion was based upon 130 other plant species! I may not be an eminent scientist, but I do know that there are slightly more than 130 other plant species on the planet. What we must remember is that scientists are motivated by innovation and governments are motivated by votes. This combination could lead to the deployment of experimental biological warfare techniques by an government keen to be seen tackling the drugs problem. We have absolutely NO right to interfere with nature in this way, just because of a problem that humans alone have caused. I also find it incredible that the UK government is considering using biological warfare to tackle the drugs problem, when it is not prepared to even debate the de-criminilisation issue. I, for one, am very concerned about what the planet faces if we stand back and let these few people play with nature. Nature will win in the end, but it will be at our expense.
William Hall
London

Just watched the war on drugs programme and found it very disturbing. While the new UK Customs approach of arrests at first opportunity seems sensible and more cost effective (if ultimately no less futile as any success in cutting supplies only improves profits and encourages new sources) the biological warfare angle is very worrying. To discover that our government is providing taxpayers money to develop this product and delivery mechanism(do we know how much by the way?) seems incredible. Who will take responsibility when the first terrorist group uses this to threaten food crops in England or the first African dictator uses it to destroy food crops in areas of opposition?

A mature drugs policy that r removes the profit motive from importing and pushing drugs is the only solution that will work in the long term

David Nicholson, London
No doubt we will then be able to turn to Monsanto who for a very reasonable fee will provide us with the only crops that are resistant... If this report was true and think we should have some statement from the minister responsible. The fact is with millions of varieties of flora and fauna in the world no "field trial" will ever provide assurance against a self propagating biological weapon. A mature drugs policy that removes the profit motive from importing and pushing drugs is the only solution that will work in the long term (and cut all drugs related crime). Declaring biological war on parts of the planet is a crazy alternative that sounds like a new 21st Century version of Dr Strangelove.
David Nicholson
London

Any Government which permits drugs to be grown on its territory knows full well that those same drugs are killing our people. These countries should be treated as if they are at war with us.
Richard Oakey
Quarrington, Lincs

Although very interesting, I was concerned that the entire programme gave no consideration to the interests of the countries that would be affected by the proposed use of biological agents. I am aware that the coca plant in South America is used for a range of medicinal and other purposes. The local people would be deprived of a very valuable asset if this crop were destroyed.
K Hughes
Worcester

Your earlier comments

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE











E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Panorama stories