Pubdate: Mon, 23 Mar 2015
Source: China Post, The (Taiwan)
Copyright: 2015 The China Post.
Author: Joshua Goodman


BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - The new labeling of the world's most-popular 
weed killer as a likely cause of cancer is raising more questions for 
an aerial spraying program in Colombia that is the cornerstone of the 
U.S.-backed war on drugs.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a French-based 
research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), has reclassified 
the herbicide glyphosate as a result of what it said is convincing 
evidence the chemical produces cancer in lab animals and more limited 
findings it causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in humans.

The ruling on Thursday is likely to send shockwaves around the globe, 
where the glyphosate-containing herbicide Roundup is a mainstay of 
industrial agriculture.

In Colombia, there is an added political dimension stemming from the 
fierce debate that has raged over a program that has sprayed more 
than 4 million acres of land in the past two decades to kill coca 
plants, whose leaves are used to produce cocaine.

The fumigation program, which is financed by the U.S. and partly 
carried out by American contractors, has long been an irritant to 
Colombia's left, which likens it to the U.S. military's use of the 
Agent Orange herbicide during the Vietnam War. Ending Colombia's 
spraying program has also been a demand of leftist rebels negotiating 
with the government on an accord to end the country's half-century 
armed conflict.

Daniel Mejia, a Bogota-based economist who is chairman of an expert 
panel advising the Colombian government on its drug strategy, said 
the new report is by far the most authoritative and could end up 
burying the fumigation program.

"Nobody can accuse the WHO of being ideologically biased," Mejia 
said, noting that questions already had been raised about the 
effectiveness of the spraying strategy and its potential health 
risks. A paper he published last year, based on a study of medical 
records between 2003 and 2007, found a higher incidence of skin 
problems and miscarriages in districts targeted by aerial spraying.

But Mejia cautioned that while he favors ending aerial spraying, 
there hasn't been a consensus for that move on the advisory panel he leads.

Mejia's concerns were echoed by Colombia's ombudsman office, which 
said it would request the suspension of the spraying program if the 
WHO results are convincing.

The U.S. government, which has seen American pilots shot down on the 
drug flights, says damage to the environment and health risks from 
production of cocaine far outweigh the adverse effects of aerial 
eradication. It's a position Colombia shares.

"Without a doubt this reopens the debate on fumigation and causes us 
to worry," Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria told The Associated 
Press on Saturday. "But these are interests here that transcend" science.

Monsanto and other manufacturers of glyphosate-containing products 
strongly rejected the new WHO ruling, pointing to a U.S. 
Environmental Protection Agency ruling from 2012 determining the 
herbicide is safe.

Colombia has already been scaling back fumigation in favor of manual 
eradication efforts amid mounting criticism spraying generates 
ill-will among farmers that the state is trying to protect from armed groups.

Aerial spraying last year was around 55,000 hectares (136,000 acres), 
down from a peak of 172,000 hectares (425,000 acres) in 2006. And 
even opponents of the program say the government has made strides 
improving safety, such as not spraying in strong winds to avoid 
chemical drift and installing GPS devices on fumigation planes so 
farmers' claims of injury can be promptly investigated.

In 2013, Colombia agreed to pay Ecuador US$15 million to settle a 
lawsuit over economic and human damage tied to spraying along the 
countries' border.

Gen. Ricardo Restrepo, head of the anti-narcotics police, said that 
he had not yet seen WHO's new warning and that the spraying program 
is operating as usual.

"My job is to carry out the strategy," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom