PANNA: Colombian Court Nixes Spray Program


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Colombian Court Nixes Spray Program
July 15, 2003

Three recent Colombian court rulings emphasize the health and environmental damage of the aerial spraying to eradicate coca and poppy crops. On June 25, 2003, a Superior Administrative Court of Cundinamarca, Colombia, ordered a stop to the spraying of glyphosate herbicides until the government complies with the environmental management plan for the eradication program, and mandated a series of studies to protect public health and the environment. In May, a Colombian Constitutional Court ordered the suspension of spraying in indigenous territories until the government consulted with the indigenous people of the Colombian Amazon. A State Council also recently ordered full compliance with an environmental management plan approved by the Ministry of Environment.

Yamile Salinas of the Colombian Ombudsman's Office called the Cundinamarca decision "a victory for both public health and the environment of Colombia." Salinas added that, in applying the Precautionary Principle, "the court affirms that the significant and potentially irreparable risk posed by the spraying is reason enough to suspend the fumigation program." Those risks have been demonstrated in numerous reports of illnesses from exposure to the herbicides including the death of two children, well-documented extensive losses of food crops, and reports of wildlife damage.

Since 2000, the U.S. government has provided funds (as part of a U.S. aid package now approaching a total of US $2.4 billion) for the spraying of potent formulations of glyphosate in Plan Colombia, an aggressive counter narcotics program that has displaced thousands of farmers from their lands.

Last September, scientists and advocacy groups released six independent reviews challenging claims made by a September 4, 2002 U.S. State Department report on the aerial coca eradication program in Colombia. The State Department report claimed glyphosate was one of the least harmful herbicides available on the world market and asserted that since it bonds tightly to the soil and completely biodegrades, glyphosate is responsible for little runoff into watersheds.

However, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has termed glyphosate "extremely persistent" with U.S. field tests measuring half-lives longer than 100 days. The herbicide has been found in streams following agricultural, urban, and forestry applications. The glyphosate used in the Colombia spray program is a formulation of the herbicide Roundup, manufactured by Monsanto. Despite the fact that the US EPA placed glyphosate in a category of "non-carcinogenicity for humans" two studies have linked glyphosate with increased risks of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The herbicide has also been found to cause genetic damage and reproductive problems. The spray program does not warn residents before their homes and farms are sprayed, and because they have no alternative, sprayed communities must wash and cook with contaminated water, and consume food laden with the spray.

Anna Cederstav, staff scientist with the nonprofit public interest law firm Earthjustice and the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense, said, "In light of the evidence presented and the Cundinamarca court's clear decision on this matter, the Department of State cannot certify to Congress that the herbicide mixture, in the manner it is being used, poses no unreasonable risks or adverse effects to humans or the environment, or that the herbicide is being used in compliance with the environmental management plan for the program."

Unfortunately, the Colombian government has announced that it disagrees with the Superior Administrative Court's decision and will not stop the herbicide spraying. Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón promised that the government would file an appeal. The spray program and the Colombian court rulings against the spraying were not a factor for U.S Secretary of State Colin Powell when he certified to U.S. Congress on July 8, 2003, that the Colombian government is adequately protecting human rights. Powell's action frees U.S. $31.6 million in assistance to Colombia security forces, and was met with strong criticism from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The Colombian Courts have presented the people of Colombia with an environmental and human rights victory. It is time the U.S. and Colombian governments comply with the courts and put an end to the devastation.

Sources: Press Release, Associación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense) AIDA, June 26, 2003; Press Release, Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC), June 20, 2003; Environmental review of Colombia Spray Program and Press Release, Amazon Alliance, June 20, 2003, http://www.amazonalliance.org; Powell: Colombia Abides by Rights Laws, New York Times, July 8, 2003; NCAP Pesticide Factsheet: Glyphosate (Roundup), http://www.pesticide.org/factsheets.html#pesticides; Press Release, Environment News Service (ENS) July 1 2003, http://ens-news.com/; The Center for International Policy's, Colombia Project, http://ciponline.org/colombia/aidtable.htm.

Contact: PANNA or Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) c/o Earthjustice, 426 17th Street, 6th Floor, Oakland, CA 94612-2820; email aceder@aida2.org; Web site http://www.aida2.org.

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