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Colombia defies court on coca.

An aerial glyphosate-based herbicide spraying program, part of the U.S. antinarcotics effort in Colombia, has successfully reduced that nation's hectarage of coca plants. But critics of the program say its environmental and health costs are not receiving enough attention. And although Colombia's second highest court, the Administrative Tribunal of Cundinamarca, declared in June 2003 that the spraying program was too dangerous and must be suspended until the Colombian government conducts studies to determine its environmental and health effects, the government is defying the order and has continued spraying.

Last year, Congress ordered the State Department to consult with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in assessing the use of glyphosate in Colombia. EPA assistant administrator Stepnen L. Johnson told the State Department that glyphosate as used in Roundup, a popular U.S. commercial product, has "no unreasonable adverse effects," but also noted that the particular glyphosate formulations being used in Colombia can cause acute eye irritation. He suggested steps be taken to mitigate drift.

Rachel Massey, a research associate at the Tufts University Global Development and Environment Institute, contends the effects of the large-scale uses and manners of delivery that are being employed in Colombia are unknown. Further, says Astrid Puentes, a Colombian lawyer now working as legal director for the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense in Oakland, California, the EPA has not certified that the particular glyphosate mixture being sprayed is being used in accordance with EPA label requirements, as Congress stipulated.

The spraying is being done by fixed-wing aircraft, resulting in imprecise applications. Massey says the spray has wrought economic damage on subsistence farmers who are growing crops near coca plants. The spray also kills native species growing nearby, she says: "There are some very rare, delicate, and valuable species that are found only, in those areas."

Puentes says that plenty of evidence suggests the spraying is also harming people. Her organization receives information and photos from nongovernmental organizations such as Witness for Peace, an international human rights group with an office in Colombia. "People say they're suffering from skin problems and other health impacts, especially among children," she says.

Puentes argues that the government must comply with the court order to suspend the spraying. She says the government must also assess the true environmental and health consequences of the spraying program. "One of the excuses the government mentions for not implementing these studies is [Colombia's ongoing] civil war," she says. "But the civil war does not give the government the right to harm all these innocent people, especially children. Protecting the human health and the environment and health should be the government's priority."
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Title Annotation:Policy
Author:Dahl, Richard
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Words:438
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