Forced Aerial Eradication of Illicit Crops: A Reply to the State Department


Feb. 9, 2001


On January 17, 2001, The U.S. State Department's Bureau for Western Hemisphere Affairs published its Fact Sheet: The Aerial Eradication of Illicit Crops: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, to respond to the many questions raised about the herbicide used for aerial spraying in Colombia. The U.S. State Department publishes these Fact Sheets as a matter of protocol, when an issue related to U.S. foreign policy raises controversy or becomes the object of open debate, as has been the case with regard to glyphosate and the other ingredients present in the fumigation formulas applied in Colombia.

In response to this Fact Sheet, we the undersigned organizations drafted this Counter Fact Sheet, in which we reply to each question put forward by the U.S. State Department by supplying a response more in keeping with the reality of fumigation. This policy, imposed by the U.S. on producer countries, is part of a supply reduction strategy that disregards the damages that aerial spraying causes both to the environment and to the livelihood of the peasants inhabiting the areas fumigated.

Arguing that glyphosate, when applied in the dosages recommended, can be "less harmful than aspirin," the U.S. government justifies using the herbicide on illicit crops. However, there is evidence that herbicide concentrations much higher than the ones recommended are being applied in Colombia, and that monitoring and control bodies are failing to react against this violation of safety guidelines. Glyphosate is also not sprayed alone. The Fact Sheet does not make a single reference to the fact that commercial fumigation formulas in Colombia mix glyphosate with other ingredients, thus modifying its properties. For us, any discussion centering exclusively on glyphosate is a sham, since the problem is not the herbicide in itself but its association with potentially much more toxic substances, about which no information is supplied and no reliable studies regarding their safety margins exist. In this respect, we would like to call attention to a report, also prepared by the U.S. State Department, released on January 23, 2001 and entitled: Report on the Effects on Human Health and Safety of Herbicides Used in the Colombian Aerial Spray Program. This report specifically mentions the presence of two other ingredients in the spray formula applied in Colombia at present. According to this report, apart from glyphosate today''s formula contains two adjuvants (Cosmoflux-411F y Cosmo-In-D), which are manufactured in Colombia. These adjuvants are briefly described as "inert ingredients". There are no toxicological studies, however, regarding the effects of mixing the Cosmoflux-411F surfactant with pesticides. In fact, incorporating these two adjuvants into the current formula was a decision taken with complete disregard for the control mechanisms needed to reach such decisions. Moreover, the report fails to mention that the commercial formula Roundup Ultra contains other ingredients besides glyphosate and the two adjuvants.

The aim of this Counter Fact Sheet is to lay bare the contradictions existing between the technical arguments put forth by the U.S. government in favor of chemical spraying, and the reality of what fumigation represents for the areas affected by it. Today, individuals and communities alike are filing a growing number of complaints as direct consequences of aerial spraying. Thus it is important to promote debate around an issue in which many interests are at stake. These interests are being advanced at the cost of the health of the local population and the regional environment, both already seriously affected by drug production and processing.

We call for the immediate suspension of aerial spraying and we adhere to Paz Colombia' s proposal to create, as soon as possible, an independent and international commission of experts dedicated to thoroughly evaluating the antidrug policy as it is implemented in Colombia, especially right now when the aerial fumigation program is being intensified in Putumayo department, as part of Plan Colombia.


State Department Fact Sheet:

"Report on the Effects on Human Health and Safety of Herbicides Used in the Colombian Aerial Spray Program,"


Ricardo Vargas M, .Acción Andina Colombia, Tel: 57 1 2857837

Martin Jelsma, Transnational Institute, TNI, Tel: 31 20 662 6608 Fax: 31 20 675 7176

Elsa Nivia, RAPALMIRA, Fax: 57 2 5525889


You can read the Counter Fact Sheet, and much more on U.S.-backed fumigation programs in Colombia and elsewhere, at


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