What is the effect of aerial glyphosate fumigation policy on the people and environment of southern Colombia?

“Toxicological studies have shown that glyphosate is less toxic than common salt, aspirin, caffeine, nicotine, and even vitamin A. Glyphosate has been proven through testing to be unlikely to have any reproductive effects and poses little risk for genetic defects in humans. The EPA has declared that glyphosate is not cancer-causing in humans and classified glyphosate as ‘category E,’ the most favorable category possible on a scale of carcinogenicity.” From Fact Sheet released by the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State,

“Herbicides that contain glyphosate such as Roundup are registered in Colombia in Toxicity Class IV, slightly toxic…. But in the United States these herbicides have been reclassified by the Environmental Protection Agency as Class II, highly toxic, because of eye irritation. The EPA has classified it as a ‘medium irritant,’ but the World Health Organization has found more serious effects…. The active ingredient, glyphosate on its own, is classified in Category I, extremely toxic. Both glyphosate alone as well as the products that contain it are more toxic through dermal application and inhalation than by oral ingestion.” –Dr. Elsa Nivia, Colombia Regional Coordinator, Pesticide Action Network, Cali, Colombia, in a November 20. 2000 Amazon biodiversity conference.

“Nearly all the toxicity tests the EPA used to assess glyphosate’s toxicity were oral toxicity tests. Recent investigations have shown that a small fraction of the dose that is orally toxic can be lethal when inhaled, for mammals.” –Linda Farley, American Bird Conservancy, in a November 20, 2000 Amazon biodiversity conference.

“Medical reports link exposure to glyphosate herbicides with short-term symptoms including blurred vision, skin problems, heart palpitations, and nausea. Studies have also found associations with increased risk of miscarraiges, premature birth, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Formulations in which glyphosate is combined with other ingredients can be more acutely toxic than glyphosate alone. Monsanto, a major manufacturer of glyphosate-based herbicides, was challenged by the Attorney General of New York state for making safety claims similar to those now being repeated by the U.S. State Department. In an out-of-court settlement in 1996, Monsanto agreed to stop advertising the product as ‘safe, non-toxic, harmless or free from risk.'” –From Echoes of Vietnam by Rachel Massey, Consultant to the Environmental Research Foundation, in Rachel’s Environmental and Health Weekly,

“[Fumigation complaints] have been largely based on unverified accounts provided by farmers whose illicit crops have been sprayed. Since their illegal livelihoods have been affected by the spraying, these persons do not offer objective information about the program.” –From Fact Sheet on Fumigation in Colombia released by the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State, November

“Fumigation… destroyed not only illegal crops – which were the target of manual eradication – but also other crops necessary for the subsistence of those who had signed the [manual eradication] pacts. Now, these persons and the communities are facing both the ruin of their family economy as well as a serious hunger problem. Given the precarious conditions of this group of people, the action by the State can be seen as a violation of their right to subsistence, which translates into a grave harm to the physical integrity and dignity of the families and their members. The intention was to foster a policy that would strengthen the community and move it away from marginality and illegality. However, the arbitrary behavior described herein has produced the opposite effect to the one desired.” –Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes Munoz in Resolution # 004, February , . Available at http://www.defensoria.org.co; link to ‘English version,’ then ‘Resolutions.’

“BOGOTA, Colombia, Feb. 15 – Colombia has destroyed 72,000 acres
(29,000 hectares) of the raw material used to produce cocaine — a significant proportion of world capacity — since the U.S.-backed ”Plan Colombia” began in December, the army said on Thursday. The army figures indicate that fumigation and manual eradication teams have dealt a heavy blow to cocaine production in Colombia — which the latest data showed had 295,000 acres (120,000 hectares) cultivated with coca leaf in . ”On top of the results, the first military operations of Plan Colombia have the positive aspect of being carried out without any incident to date with any farmers or settlers in the region,” the army said in a news release.” –MSNBC Reuters, February , “Colombia says huge areas of coca leaf destroyed.”

“[After spraying, glyphosate] is quickly broken down by microorganisms and readily and completely biodegrades in the soil. Thus the rejuvenation of plant growth (naturally or through replanting) can begin immediately after spraying.” –From Fact Sheet on Fumigation in Colombia, released by the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State,

“Despite the fumigation of coca and poppy from to , crops which extend over the equivalent of 230,000 hectares—i.e. more than two-and-a-half million liters of glyphosate have been sprayed—Colombia is today the world’s leading producer of coca, and has a significant area under poppies, used for the production of heroin. For example, in , Colombia fumigated the equivalent of more than 50% of the coca crops, yet this had no impact whatsoever on the total area planted in coca the following year. Despite the intensity of the fumigation, the total area planted continued to grow.” –Dr. Ricardo Vargas Meza, Drug Policy Expert, Acción Andina, Bogotá, Colombia; in a Amazon biodiversity conference.

“Glyphosate is only slightly toxic to wild birds and practically non-toxic to fish. It is minimally retained and rapidly eliminated in fish, birds, and mammals. As noted above, it rapidly decomposes in soil and water without any significant effects on the microorganisms that help perform this task.” –From Fact Sheet on Fumigation in Colombia, released by the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State,

“Roundup is some 30 times more toxic to fish than glyphosate alone, i.e. it is from extremely to highly toxic to these aquatic organisms.” –Dr. Elsa Nivia, Colombia Regional Coordinator, Pesticide Action Network, Cali, Colombia, in a Amazon biodiversity conference.

“Short-term toxicity of Roundup will immediately alter the structure and composition of the tropical ecosystems it contacts…. The bottom line is this: the manner in which Roundup is being applied in Colombia would be illegal in North America. The toxic and ecological effects would not be tolerated in this country.” –Linda Farley, American Bird Conservancy, in a Amazon biodiversity conference.

“The United States Government works closely with Colombia’s national plan for alternative development (PNDA) and is convinced that alternative development is an essential part of the solution to the world’s illegal drug problem…. Such development, however, is a long-term process and will work best in Colombia when accompanied by aerial spraying that decreases a farmer’s chances of profiting from criminal activity. For much of the coca growing areas, especially deep in the Guaviare, other factors such as soil quality, remoteness, and inadequate infrastructure make alternative development in those regions an option unlikely to succeed.” –From Fumigation Fact Sheet released by the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State,

“But the presence of the armed units of the guerrillas and the paramilitaries is going to make it more difficult to start more than a few pilot [alternative development] projects. The government was enthusiastic that there would be no armed opposition. We, in our own judgments in the United States, were less convinced, unfortunately. I say unfortunately because it doesn’t help that we turn out to be right and they have turned out to be wrong.” –Under Secretary Pickering in a press briefing,