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Peru president suggests coca in salads December 19, 2006 - seattlepi.nwsource.com By RICK VECCHIO, ASSOCIATED PRESS
LIMA, Peru -- President Alan Garcia on Tuesday suggested an unorthodox use for the coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine: Why not toss it in a salad?
"I insist that it can be consumed directly and elegantly in salad," Garcia told foreign correspondents at the Government Palace.
Garcia's comments put him in the company of leftist presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who have publicly promoted mixing the high-calcium leaf into everything from toothpaste to soft drinks.
Coca has for centuries been considered a medicinal and ceremonial plant in Andean culture, and Garcia said it should not be vilified as useful solely for producing the illegal narcotic.
Garcia said Gaston Acurio, one of Peru's best known chefs, recently served several coca-based dishes for an event at the Government Palace.
"He offered us some tamales and pies made with coca flour. He offered us a coca liqueur cocktail," Garcia said. "Could eating coca leaf be harmful? No, absolutely not."
A recent report by a Peruvian anti-drug group questioned coca's potential benefits to people, however, saying some studies showed that its nutrients cannot be absorbed by the human body.
For years, Washington has pressed Andean nations including Peru - the world's second largest source of cocaine after Colombia - to fight production of the illegal drug. The U.S. Embassy declined to react to Garcia's comments.
Garcia pledged during an October meeting in Washington with President Bush to continue a policy of manual eradication of illegal coca crops and to pursue development programs to replace coca with alternative crops.
Peru permits cultivation of about 25,000 acres of coca for chewing and for sale to companies that produce pharmaceutical cocaine, package coca tea or produce extracts used in soft drinks.
But experts say more than 90 percent of Peruvian coca is grown illegally to fuel the cocaine trade.