Almost 30 sites have been located all across England, which are growing opium poppies under the cover of trying to combat a shortage of painkillers, with the full backing of the government.
They claim that recent dry springs and early summers in England are perfect for cultivating poppies, but neither the farmers nor pharmaceutical company, the McFarlan Smith want to talk about the business – worried about security and potential controversy.
“It’s probably a better crop than growing corn. They send their own men in combines and it’s transported to the factory in about 24 hours. They’re good crops,” retired farmer Reg Brown said.
The National Health Service (NHS) also claims that it needs a steadier supply of opium poppies to combat a national shortage of painkillers.
“The Afghanistan poppy crop creates about 90 percent of the heroin which is traded in Europe,” said Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services, a British military and security organisation.
“It accounts for well over 70 or 80 percent of Afghanistan’s income”, he said.
And because all opium production in Afghanistan is illegal, even for medicinal use, the country’s poppy fields are under attack — part of a United Nations’ eradication policy, backed by the US and Britain.
“The eradication policy is there to try to break the link between criminality, insecurity and poverty inside Afghanistan,” added Clarke.
But while both the US and Britain help to enforce the policy, they do not necessarily agree on the approach.
“The Americans have tended to say, just eradicate the poppies whether people like it or not, just get rid of them. The British have tended to say, ‘If you do that, you’ll make it all worse.'”
That’s why British MP Frank Field says eliminating the Afghan poppy fields is counter-productive.
“It gives the Taliban a hold over local people, it gives the Taliban a source of local income and it makes it easier for the Taliban to pick off our soldiers because of the lack of goodwill in villages,” he explained.
Field prefers legalizing opium poppies in Afghanistan so that crops could be taxed and exported, providing benefit for the Afghan farmers, the Afghan government and the international community.
Two years ago, the late Richard Holbrooke, the then US special adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan, considered the eradication policy a failure.
“We’re pushing farmers into the hands of the Taliban. It is the most wasteful and ineffective program I’ve seen in my 40 years in government,” Holbrooke said.
But Clarke says legalizing poppies in Afghanistan would create more problems.
“It would be a drastic step to suddenly legitimize the Afghan poppy crop, which wouldn’t be as simple as taking away poppies from Afghan farmers. It would actually create a revolution from inside Afghanistan, which might create more instability than you could handle. Some people say that unless you can address the poppy problem in Afghanistan, all other bets are off,” he said.
This comes while those in the English countryside are growing fields of poppies, and no one wants to talk about it.