Colombia’s Prosecutor General has joined a growing number of top officials who believe fumigating illicit crop fields with glyphosate should be suspended immediately because of potential health risks.
Recent studies published by the World Health Organization showed that glyphosate holds dangerous quantities of carcinogens, and thus spraying it on a massive scale may put healthy people at a heightened risk of receiving cancer.
“When there is any probability that the use of any substance may cause damage, the precautionary principle is the duty of the authorities to stop using it,” said Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre.
The chief prosecutor will thus propose to the National Council of Narcotics in their next meeting that they halt the spraying of the chemical on illicit crop fields.
The recommendation from the Ministry of Health is based on a study that was released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which categorized glyphosate as being “probably cancerous,” said the director of the Center of Studies on Security and Drugs (CESED) Daniel Mejia.
Experts from IARC have concluded that exposure to glyphosate has been associated with non-hodgkin lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, renal tubular carcinoma, skin tumors, and pancreatic adenoma.
The United States reportedly opposes the decision to halt fumigations, which may put strains on relations between the two nations, as they have invested large quantities of financial and military aid to help combat the drug war in Colombia for several years.
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.
“I think there’s some pressure from the US to continue spraying the glyphosate…[But] the era of interventionism has passed and the US government will have to understand that it has been very costly on our financial resources, on our health, and on the environment,” said Maija of CESED.
When asked about the various sectors both domestic and abroad that oppose the suspension of fumigations, Montealegre claimed that spraying illicit crops has not proven effective in combating the drug war anyway.
“Several studies have shown that its effectiveness is much lower than we tend to think…[The fumigations] have been a resounding failure and we should redirect our efforts from crop eradication to the seizure of shipments and destruction of laboratories,” said Montealegre in an interview with Colombian newspaper Tiempo.
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.
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 administration of President Juan Manuel Santos has yet to make a determination on the use of glyphosate.
“El glifosato es ‘probablemente cancerígeno’” (El Espectador)