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Colombia: Herbicide could be used in drug war despite dire warning by maker

The Scotsman

Saturday 25 Apr 1998

Colombia: Herbicide could be used in drug war despite dire warning by maker st1829.htm

Subj: Colombia: Herbicide could be used in drug war despite dire warning by maker

Date: Apr 25, 1998

Source: The Scotsman

Herbicide could be used in drug war despite dire warning by maker

Jeremy McDermott

in Bogota

Colombian anti-narcotics agencies, under pressure from the
United States to improve eradication of drug crops, are
planning to use a herbicide so strong that its manufacturer
says it could cause environmental damage.

In 1997, Colombian anti-narcotic agents sprayed 41,161
hectares of coca, 6,962 hectares of poppies and eight
hectares of marijuana in "the largest eradication of coca
and poppy crops that has taken place in the world in a
year", according to the counter-narcotics police director,
Colonel Leonardo Gallego. But the US feels it is still not

A State Department official said that the herbicide used,
Glyphosate, led to a less than 50 per cent rate of
effectiveness. So Col Gallego is backing a switch to

Dow Agro Sciences manufacture Tebuthiuron, or Spike. It also
produced the contraversial defoliant Agent Orange during the
Vietnam War.

It is so concerned about the potential misuse of Tebuthiuron
that it warns customers never to apply it near trees, water
sources or any place where it can accidentally kill
desirable plant life. It specifically says it is not the
product for wide-scale eradication of illicit drug crops.

Dow finds itself in the unusual position of siding with the
environmental groups against the US government proposal to
make Tebuthiuron a centrepiece in the war on drugs in

US government researchers have listed Tebuthiuron as the
most effective of several potential eradication chemicals
and insist it can be used safely.

Environmental groups, including Greepeace and the World
Wildlife Fund, have objected to even limited tests of
Tebuthiuron in Colombia, arguing that its rain and terrain
makes it too risky for such an herbicide. Members of
President Ernesto Samper's government also have raised
concerns, but also under pressure, have expressed
willingness to consider the US proposals.

"It's insanity," said an MP, Algeria Fonseca. "This chemical
was never designed for eradication. It was meant to be
applied on weeds in industrial parks... It is not selective
in what it wipes out."

Ted McKinney, a Dow spokesman, agreed. "Tebuthiuron is not
labelled for use on any crops in Colombia, and it is our
desire that this product not be used for illicit crop
eradication," he said. "It can be very risky in situations
where the territory has slopes, rainfall is significant,
desirable plants or trees are nearby and applicaiton is made
under less-than-ideal circumstances."

Colombia is having to weigh the threat of environmental
damage against the risk of further decertification by the US
and the economic sanctions that entails. US officials have
made it clear that unless Colombia takes decisive action to
curb the rapid expansion of coca and opium cultivation, it
could risk returning to the list of nations decertified by
Washington as allies in the war on drugs. Colombia was
removed from that list only last month after enduring two
years as an international pariah.

Despite the huge aerial eradication programme by Colombian
anti-narcotics police, the amount of land under cultivation
has nearly doubled in the past five years to around 150,000
acres, according to government statistics.

The problem is that more than 40 per cent of the country is
controlled by rebels who "tax" and protect drug production
to fund their war.

Anti-narcotics police cannot operate in much of this
territory, and aerial spraying, a notoriously inaccurate and
inefficiant method of drug crop eradication, is the only
means at their disposal. Furthermore, its use does nothing
to prevent increased cultivation for drugs crops.

A US department of agriculture herbicide researcher, Charles
Helling, said the advantage of Tebuthiuron is that it can be
quickly applied from high altitude in any conditions, with a
higher rate of effectiveness than Glyphosate.




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