Colombia Stops Use of Anti-Coca Herbicide Over Health Concerns

The country of Colombia is suspending the use of anti-coca herbicide over health concerns.

Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, is halting use of an herbicide that’s currently a key part of US-financed efforts to wipe out cocaine crops. This would follow the World Health Organization’s recent decision to classify glyphosate as carcinogen.


Colombia's Cocaine Production

President Santos claims he will seek other ways to destroy coca plants, not continue using a known carcinogen that puts farmers and other residents in the area at risk. President Santos also noted that health officials should agree on a transition period. This period should be the time to replace the spraying of glyphosate with other chemicals or mechanisms.

One example could be intensifying manual eradication of coca plants. Two other cocaine-producing countries Peru and Bolivia have avoided use of chemical herbicides using manual eradication instead.

The U.S. government seems to respect this decision that Columbia has made so far. U.S. and Colombian governments have previously argued that cocaine does more damage than aerial spraying. U.S. officials deny any harm has been caused by the spraying and say there is more danger to people's health and the environment from the chemicals used to manufacture cocaine in clandestine labs. If glyphosate is so unsafe, then why is nobody considering a ban on its widespread use in agriculture, they argue.


Colombia and Anti-Coca Methods

More than 4 million acres of land in Colombia have been sprayed with this weed killer over the last 20 years. The main purpose of course being to kill the plants whose leaves produce cocaine. Perhaps due to the high volume of cocaine that Colombia produces, the country remains the only place that destroys coca crops by air and the practice has long provoked hostility from political and environmental groups.   

The decision to end this fumigation program could also ease ongoing peace discussions with the country’s main rebel group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, who has demanded this method be stopped multiple times.

Manufacturer's Take on Glyphosate

Of course, manufacturers of the pesticide rejected the WHO’s ruling citing a 2012 ruling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that herbicide was safe.  

Nevertheless, further evidence proved it was a carcinogen.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a French-based research arm of the World Health Organization in March was one of the first research arms to cite evidence that the herbicide produces cancer in lab animals and more limited findings that it causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans. It's also been linked to skin problems and miscarriages. 

In October 2013, an article appeared in the Associated Press citing the use of glyphosate in farming across Argentina. One of the main manufacturers, Monsanto, described the herbicide as "even less toxic than the repellent you put on your children's skin." They also accused Argentina of misusing the chemical.