Monday, February 2, 2009

The bugs of war - ecoterrorism and other top headlines

The Times of London splashes with a Drudge-featured article this morning about the bugs of war, and potential use of pests in agro-terror. From the piece, by Jeffrey A. Lockwood is the author of Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War (OUP). Educated as an entomologist, he is a professor of philosophy and creative writing at the University of Wyoming:

The terrorists' letter arrived at the Mayor of Los Angeles's office on November 30, 1989. A group calling itself “the Breeders” claimed to have released the Mediterranean fruit fly in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and threatened to expand their attack to the San Joaquin Valley, an important centre of Californian agriculture.

With perverse logic, they said that unless the Government stopped using pesticides they would assure a cataclysmic infestation that would lead to the quarantining of California produce, costing 132,000 jobs and $13.4 billion in lost trade.

The infestation was real enough. It was ended by heavy spraying. It is still not known if ecoterrorists were behind it, but the panic it engendered shows that “the Breeders” were flirting with a powerful weapon.

The history and future of insects as weapons are explored in my new book, Six-Legged Soldiers. As an entomologist, I was initially interested in how human beings have conscripted insects and twisted science for use in war, terrorism and torture. It soon became apparent that the weaponisation of insects was not some quirky military footnote but a recurring theme in human strife, and quite possibly the next chapter in modern conflicts.

Insects are one of the cheapest and most destructive weapons available to terrorists today, and one of the most widely ignored: they are easy to sneak across borders, reproduce quickly and can spread disease and destroy crops with devastating speed.

A great strategic lesson of 9/11 has been overlooked. Terrorists need only a little ingenuity, not sophisticated weapons, to cause enormous damage. Armed only with box-cutters, terrorists hijacked aircraft and brought down the World Trade Centre. Insects are the box-cutters of biological warfare - cheap, simple and wickedly effective.

Am I being an alarmist? I wish I knew.

TK: Conventional pest challenges are scary enough without layering in the threat of terrorism. May diligence and our plant health defense prevail...

Other headlines snatched from the Web:

On the trail of tainted food
From Newsday and Caroline Smith Dewaal

The company ignored 12 positive test results in a two-year period showing the presence of salmonella. Instead of stopping production and thoroughly cleaning, Peanut Corp. continued to ship its products to market when retests did not confirm the findings. The Food and Drug Administration hadn't inspected the plant in eight years. It's particularly troubling that the FDA didn't seek either the company's records or the Georgia inspection reports - information that might have prevented the outbreak from occurring - even after it found that some of the products had been rejected by a firm in Canada.

Putnam to run for Florida agriculture commissioner From the AP

U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, who quickly rose to power in Congress after being elected as a 26-year-old, said Sunday he will run for Florida agriculture commissioner.

Putnam will file paperwork to officially enter the race on Monday, he told The Associated Press. Putnam will serve out his final two years in Congress.

"Agriculture is in my DNA," Putnam said. "It's my professional background, it's my academic background, it's what my family is involved in to this day."

Downturn diet Consumer Reports chimes in on the food budget. A couple of their misguided missives:

Buy in season:
That means no strawberries in December in Maine, when you'll pay for shipping from some far-off warm place. Seasonal picks include cherries, melon, peaches, tomatoes, and peppers in summer; snow peas, spinach, and strawberries in spring; and carrots, cauliflower, citrus fruits, and cranberries in fall. For a list, click on "Save at the Supermarket" from the August/September 2008 issue of our ShopSmart magazine, free at

For produce, go frozen
Frozen fruits and vegetables, often flash-frozen soon after picking, can be more nutritious than "fresh" items that have sat on store shelves for a while. And you don't have to worry about the frozen variety spoiling before it's eaten.

TK: It is always in season somewhere, and the idea that consumers should "shop in-season" is one the great farces perpetrated on the American consumer. If consumers see Chilean grapes on sale for $1.18 per pound, they should by all means purchase the grapes. Also, there is not a love for Wal-Mart or hard discounters like Aldi in these stretch your budget stories; instead it is advice urging consumers to shop local and support CSAs. Come now, there may be reasons to shop local and join a CSA, but to foist this advice as a "downturn diet" is a disservice to the downtrodden.

Beetle could post threat to Florida avocado industry

The redbay ambrosia beetle, which was first detected in Georgia in 2002 and has been moving its way southward to Florida, could be a threat to Florida’s avocado industry, and to homeowners who have the trees in their yards.

Super Bowl success: Mexican avocados

Australia and climate change
Is heat wave evidence of pending implosion?

Dole to sell 1,000 acres in California Coverage from The Packer

GM potatoes will be used by Scottish farmers within 10 years
Biotechnology needed to help control blight since Europe is removing some pesticide options

APEAM's marketing surge pays off big Coverage from The Packer

Child protection services should be called in for some obesity cases, say some

"What we are saying is that we need to start having some options because we get to a stage where our options are running out and we are not able to help these families for whatever reasons - either the parents are unable or unwilling to follow the advice from the weight management program."

Bird flu in China claims another victim

Climate change may shuffle Western weeds

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