UK poppy-growing program kept hush-hush
10 Sep, 2011 07:13
The “War on Drugs” that came soon after the “War on Terror” is being decisively lost. Ten years after the US invasion Afghanistan remains the world’s biggest opium poppy producer. Meanwhile, the UK is making inroads to the market.
As the West struggles to destroy drug production in Afghanistan, Britain harvests a new crop of poppies to plug a growing painkiller shortage. Some believe that is counterproductive.In the rolling fields of Oxfordshire, UK, at this time of year, you will probably see wheat or barley ripening for the harvest. But dry springs and warm summers have enabled local farmers to plant a very different type of crop – opium poppies. They are under contract to a pharmaceutical company that turns the opium into morphine and codeine in order to plug a shortfall in strong painkillers in the National Health Service. In fact, there is a global shortage of drugs made from poppies.The opium grown in Britain will be put to good use, but thousands of miles away, NATO troops are wiping out existing Afghan poppies with bombing, burning and spraying.“The main question is why are we destroying the Afghan crop and then having to grown poppies in fields in Oxfordshire? It’s been used by the American and British governments repeatedly, one of the so called soft arguments that they put, one of the liberal arguments that they put, is that they’re fighting a war on drugs. This is complete hypocrisy, it’s not true, it’s not what the war is about, and we should own up to that,” says Lindsey German from the Stop the War Coalition. It is easy to understand why Afghan farmers grow, then sell opium to the Taliban. There’s an effective distribution network, and they can make around 17 times more profit per hectare than they can on wheat. Despite the obvious economics, farmers are still being encouraged to grow other crops. British MP Frank Field thinks that policy has failed, but the Americans will not budge. “America rules and we follow on behind them. It makes a nonsense of what this relationship is about, when you’re putting British lives at stake, not to be able to use this as a bargaining position with the Americans, to rethink a strategy which I think most people think over the years has failed, historically, has failed, why don’t we try a new tack?” Frank Field and his group Poppy Relief believe that Afghan opium should be legalized instead. It would benefit Afghan farmers, raise much-needed revenue for the government’s nation building efforts, and stop the opium from falling into the hands of the drug cartels. Field also says it should be military strategy too. “In Afghanistan we have chosen bombs, rather than brains. Anybody who would be thinking about how do we get ordinary people, ordinary farmers who see poppies as a cash crop, how do we get them to protect the backs of our troops, we would be thinking about how do we harness this crop, how do we pay them for it and how do we then use that crop to transfer it into medicines to counter pain.”With opium being burned in Afghanistan and kept a secret in Britain, no-one wants to talk about the UK’s opium-growing program. RT asked both the farmers and MacFarlane Smith, the company they grow for, if they would give an interview.MacFarlane Smith said they would not allow the farmers to talk because it is a part of their contract with the Home Office that they keep the poppy growing secretive. The Home Office also declined to comment.While poppies are increasingly harvested in Britain, the so-called war on drugs is being decisively lost. The UN says opium production in Afghanistan has been on the rise since the US occupation began in 2001.