Pubdate: Mon, 23 Mar 2015
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2015 Associated Press
Author: Joshua Goodman, Associated Press


BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - New labeling on 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 underpins U.S.financed 
efforts to wipe out cocaine crops.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a French-based 
research arm of the World Health Organization, on Thursday 
reclassified the herbicide glyphosate as a carcinogen that poses a 
greater potential danger to industrial users than homeowners. The 
agency cited what it called convincing evidence that the herbicide 
produces cancer in lab animals and more limited findings that it 
causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in humans.

The glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup is a mainstay of industrial 
agriculture worldwide, and it's a preferred weapon for killing 
Colombian cocaine harvests. More than 4 million acres of land have 
been sprayed over the past two decades to kill coca plants, whose 
leaves produce cocaine.

The fumigation program, which is partly carried out by American 
contractors, long has provoked hostility from Colombia's left, which 
likens it to the U.S. military's use of the Agent Orange herbicide 
during the Vietnam War. Leftist rebels, currently in negotiations 
with the government to end a half-century conflict, are demanding an 
end to the spraying as part of any deal.

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

Mr. Mejia's own research published last year found higher rates of 
skin problems and miscarriages in districts targeted by herbicides. 
It was based on a study of medical records from 2003-07.

Colombia's ombudsman office said it would seek suspension of the 
spraying program if the WHO results prove convincing.

But U.S. and Colombian government officials argue that cocaine does 
more health damage than aerial spraying.

"Without a doubt this reopens the debate on fumigation and causes us 
to worry," Colombia Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria told the 
Associated Press on Saturday.
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