Fusarium wilt. The name strikes fear into the hearts of backyard tomato growers everywhere. Once introduced, the fungus Fusarium oxysporum can survive for many years in the soil. Fusarium wilt attacks a number of plants – food crops, industrial crops, and weeds. Your parents might remember the Gros Michel or ‘Big Mike’ variety of bananas. This variety was wiped out by Panama disease, or fusarium wilt, in the 1950s. A similar fate now befalls the Cavendish banana, the industry’s successor the Gros Michel. Some scientists think that the Cavendish banana will be essentially gone in ten years. The banana is the world’s number one fruit the fourth leading plant-based food in the world, after rice, corn and wheat. The International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain and other organizations are working hard to get funding for research to come up with ways to halt the spread of the disease and come up with new cultivars of bananas that are resistant to this disease.
What does this have to do with hemp? More…
What would you think if I told you that there were people in the world who are working on the weaponization of Fusarium oxysporum and that there are legislators ignorant enough to approve funding for this research? You would think that I was making it up because this kind of research went the way of the Cold War and Soviet research into fungus to wipe out the West’s wheat and other food crops. Well, unfortunately you’re wrong.
Buried in the United States bill H.R. 2829, To reauthorize the Office of National Drug Control Policy Act, is this little paragraph:
(n) Requirement for Scientific Study of Mycoherbicide in Illicit Drug Crop Eradication- Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall submit to the Congress a report that includes a plan to conduct, on an expedited basis, a scientific study of the use of mycoherbicide as a means of illicit drug crop elimination by an appropriate Government scientific research entity, including a complete and thorough scientific peer review. The study shall include an evaluation of the likely human health and environmental impacts of such use. The report shall also include a plan to conduct controlled scientific testing in a major drug producing nation of mycoherbicide naturally existing in the producing nation.
You would think that in the process of moving through the U.S. House of Representatives this paragraph would be noticed and removed. No one would want to vote for something like this, right? Sorry, wrong again. Only five representatives voted against it and it’s off to the Senate now. You would think that the sponsors of H.R. 2829 would be proud of mycoherbicide research. In their respective press releases Congressman Mark Souder of Indiana and Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia make no mention of it.
So, what does drug policy and Mycoherbicide in Illicit Drug Crop Eradication have to do with hemp? Plenty. In the Plant Protection Import Requirements For Hemp, Cannabis sativa the Canadian government specifically mentions Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cannabis as a pest associated with hemp. There are many diseases of hemp and you don’t want them in your country lest they kill your agricultural crops.
Weaponized Fusarium has already been developed. Here is a scientific paper Biological Control of Infestations of Ditchweed (Cannabis sativa) with Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. Cannabis in Kazakhstan about the subject. Here is a presentation by AgBio-Con, Inc of Bozeman, MT to use this bio-weapon including high altitude delivery by C 130 cargo planes. The efficacy of these agents in attacking Cannabis is demonstrated in the journal article Killing Cannabis with mycoherbicides by John McPartland and David West. Interestingly the authors note that the species Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cannabis is morphologically identical to Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. vasinfectum which has a very broad host range including crops such as cotton, rubber trees, alfalfa, soybeans, coffee, tobacco and hops. Hops (Humulus lupulus) are a very close relative to hemp (Cannabis sativa) and are used to flavor beer and ale.
In this age of worldwide terrorism we need to seriously debate the ethics and legality of developing biological weapons that can be used against food and industrial crops lest they come back to haunt us forever.