New labeling on the world’s most popular weed killer as a likely cause of cancer is raising more questions for an aerial spraying program in Colombia that underpins U.S.-financed efforts to wipe out cocaine crops.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a French-based research arm of the World Health Organization, on Thursday reclassified the herbicide glyphosate as a carcinogen that poses a greater potential danger to industrial users than homeowners. The agency cited what it called convincing evidence that the herbicide produces cancer in lab animals and more limited findings that it causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans.
The glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup is a mainstay of industrial agriculture worldwide, and it’s a preferred weapon for killing Colombian cocaine harvests. More than 4 million acres of land have been sprayed over the past two decades to kill coca plants, whose leaves produce cocaine.
The fumigation program, which is partly carried out by American contractors, long has provoked hostility from Colombia’s left, which likens it to the U.S. military’s use of the Agent Orange herbicide during the Vietnam War. Leftist rebels, currently in negotiations with the government to end a half-century conflict, are demanding an end to the spraying as part of any deal.