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crop spraying sparks colombia debate

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  • PTPEET@cs.com
    U.S. and Colombian officials contend glyphosate produced in the United States by Monsanto Co. and sold as the weed-killer Roundup is no more harmful than
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2001
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      "U.S. and Colombian officials contend glyphosate produced in the United
      States by Monsanto Co. and sold as the weed-killer Roundup is no more
      harmful than aspirin, table salt or caffeine."


      mgraffis@... (Mark Graffis)


      ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Tuesday, 27 February 2001

      Crop Spraying Sparks Colombia Debate
      ------------------------------------

      By Juan Pablo Toro

      BOGOTA -- Harmless weed killer or Amazon-threatening poison?

      As a U.S.-backed drug war escalates in Colombia, so does the debate over
      glyphosate, the chemical herbicide being used in a massive aerial campaign
      to eradicate coca the leaf used to make cocaine.

      Colombian President Andres Pastrana was meeting with President Bush in
      Washington on Tuesday to discuss U.S. support for drug-fighting programs
      in the world's largest cocaine-producing nation. But plans to continue
      fumigating are not expected to be modified U.S. and Colombian government
      officials say the herbicide is harmless to humans and the environment.

      Since spraying kicked into high gear in southern Putumayo province in
      December, airplanes escorted by U.S.-provided helicopter gunships have
      dumped an estimated 85,000 gallons of the herbicide glyphosate over tens
      of thousands of acres of coca.

      The private Clinica Marcos in La Hormiga, a main town in the fumigation
      zone, has received 15 patients complaining of laryngitis and minor skin
      and respiratory infections since then, said Ana Patricia Quinteros, a
      physician. However, it is unclear if the complaints are related to the
      fumigation, Quinteros said.

      To investigate complaints of health effects, U.S. Ambassador Anne
      Patterson has decided to dispatch a medical team to Putumayo.

      Colombia's federal human rights ombudsman recently requested the spraying
      be halted, citing effects on food crops and evidence that farmers who
      agreed to voluntarily eradicate their coca crops have had them fumigated
      anyway.

      ''The rivers and streams where peasants get their water have been
      contaminated. Plantains, yucca and sugar cane all of it has been
      damaged,'' Francisco Tenorio, the president of a Putumayo indigenous
      peoples organization, said in telephone interview.

      While the government insists on continuing the aerial fumigation,
      environmentalists are warning of ecological damage.

      ''The situation is truly alarming,'' said Ricardo Vargas, an
      environmentalist and author of a book on coca eradication. ''Forests have
      been destroyed ... birds sprayed as well as the food eaten by monkeys, in
      a region with great biodiversity.''

      U.S. and Colombian officials contend glyphosate produced in the United
      States by Monsanto Co. and sold as the weed-killer Roundup is no more
      harmful than aspirin, table salt or caffeine.

      A Jan. 23 U.S. State Department report to Congress noted that glyphosate
      has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and is widely
      used in fruit orchards, coffee plantations, and rice, sugar cane and
      cotton fields.

      Vargas criticized the mixing of glyphosate with a Colombian-made mixture
      of mineral oils and other elements known as Cosmo-Flux. Cosmo-Flux makes
      the glyphosate heavier and stickier, helping it avoid being misdirected by
      the wind when sprayed, and making it adhere better to the coca plants.

      Vargas said the effects of the mixture had not been studied. But a U.S.
      official said that although Cosmo-Flux is not EPA-approved, all of its
      component have been approved by the U.S. agency.

      U.N. officials, who have been critical of the spraying policy, are
      skeptical about claims of dangerous health and environmental effects.

      ''Many more herbicides and insecticides are used in the planting (of coca)
      than in the fumigation,'' noted Klaus Nyholm, director in Colombia of the
      U.N. International Drug Control Program.

      Colombia and U.S. officials stress the environmental damage caused by drug
      production itself. Coca farmers harm the Amazonian jungles by felling
      virgin rainforest and dumping thousands of tons of cocaine-processing
      chemicals, including sulfuric acid and gasoline, into rivers.

      Copyright 2001 Associated Press
      =========================================================
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