Sunday, September 7, 2008

U.K. Expands Production of Homegrown Opium

Meanwhile, British soldiers destroy poppy fields in Afghanistan.

The British government has been quietly recruiting growers for a program of licensed cultivation of poppies for morphine in an effort to stem shortages of the drug at the National Health Service.
This summer, various British newspapers have confirmed that more than 6,400 acres of cropland on a dozen different farms in Hampshire, Lincolnshire and Hertfordshire have been converted to opium production.

The result, according to the London Daily Mail, is "an increasingly visible crop in the British countryside." According to the London Times, the British government had been hoping to keep a low profile on the project, with the poppies being grown at undisclosed locations.

A spokesperson for Macfarlan Smith told the Times the effort was undertaken "to maintain the reliability of supply."

Meanwhile, British troops have sustained casualties in an attempt to combat the soaring opium harvest in Afghanistan, and the attendant violence and corruption. So far this year, British troops have destroyed more than 64,000 acres of poppies in the Afghan fields. The fact that the same crop being grown in Great Britain is also being systematically destroyed in Afghanistan has sparked discussions about buying opium directly from Afghan farmers. However, as the Times reports: "With the illegal Afghan crop providing 90 per cent of the heroin trade in Britain alone, the possibility of medical uses for it has never been viewed as practical or realistic."

The first trial programs to plant opium poppies with Home Office approval began in 2003. Macfarlan Smith, a drug concern located in Edinburgh, is the official processor. A spokesman for Macfarlan's parent company, Johnson Matthey, told the U.K. Herald that his company was "the only company processing poppies in this way in the U.K. The same crop is grown in Afghanistan, India and Turkey for illegitimate reasons."

"If you are interested in growing poppies," says Macfarlan Smith on its web site, "you must have free-draining soil, have a pH over seven and have an on-floor drying system." A farmer in Oxfordshire told the Daily Mail: "It is worthwhile from a farmer's point of view and it's an expanding market."

It is legal for anyone to grow opium poppies (papaver somniferum) without a license, but "the people who work to produce the drugs have to be licensed," a spokesperson for the Home Office said.

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