Colombia’s Health minister, Alejandro Gaviria, has asked for the banning of aerial fumigation after the World Health Organization (WHO) classified glyphosate, the chemical used, as likely carcinogenic.
Experts from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have concluded that exposure to glyphosate has been associated with non-hodgkin lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, renal tubular carcinoma, skin tumors, and pancreatic adenoma.
Glyphosate is currently used in the fumigation of coca plants and other illegal crops in Colombia to destroy the plants from which narcotics are made, and has been sprayed on over 4 million acres of land in Colombia in the past two decades.
This new determination has put the Colombian government in a difficult position as glyphosate has been a large part of the government’s strategy with regard to combating drug production and narco-trafficking in Colombia, the Colombian government having invested over $660 million between 2000 and 2010 in coca eradication.
In fact, the Constitutional Court decided previously that if any adverse health effects of glyphosate use were to be discovered, the government should invoke the “precaution principle” and discontinue spraying of the product.
“In the context of our obligations to protect public health and abide by the orders issued by the Constitutional Court, the Ministry [of Health] recommends immediately suspending the use of glyphosate in the aerial spraying operations used for the eradication of illicit crops.” warned Gaviria.
The WHO report and Gaviria’s statement notwithstanding, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon indicated that there will be no suspension of aerial fumigation of coca plants.
“These tools reduce narco-trafficking, crime, and insecurity.” he argued, suggesting that “we can’t allow criminals to benefit from this.”
The United States has also controversially continued to support the use of glyphosate as a means of destroying coca plants intended for cocaine production.
“I doubt the Colombia government would use it if they weren’t sure that it was a safe and effective agent. We’ve also seen a lot of progress in halting the growth of illegal drugs here in Colombia and that’s extremely important, especially to the extent that it advances the peace process.” assured Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
A large part of the fumigation is carried out by US contractors such as DynCorp, perhaps revealing a financial interest in the continued use of glyphosate in coca eradication.
The substance is also produced by Monsanto, the US agricultural biotechnology corporation known to have produced other controversial agrochemicals such as DDT, PCBs, and Agent Orange.
The administration of President Juan Manuel Santos has yet to make a determination on the use of glyphosate.