Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's president, assumed office in 2010 after serving as minister of National Defense. File Photo by Andrew Harrer/Pool/UPI | License Photo
BOGOTA, May 10 (UPI) -- Colombia has announced it will stop using glyphosate, a controversial herbicide used in aerial fumigations to destroy illegal coca plantations.
For the last two decades, glyphosate has been used to remove the leaves of the coca plant in Colombia. The World Health Organization considers glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic."
The herbicide has been used in other crop-spraying anti-narcotics programs across South America and is sponsored by the United States.
"I am going to ask the government officials in the National Drug Council at their next meeting to suspend glyphosate spraying of illicit cultivations," Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said. "The recommendations and studies reviewed by the Ministry of Health show clearly that yes, this risk exists," referencing the WHO warning on probable cancer risks.
Colombian anti-narcotic officials will have until October to seek an alternative method to combat coca production. The aerial fumigations are usually conducted on territory controlled by the Rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, an armed rebel group that has used drug trafficking to wage insurgency.
More than 220,000 people have died in the Colombian conflict since the FARC's founding in 1964.
The size of coca fields in Colombia decreased from more than 345,000 acres to about 118,000 acres between 2001 and 2013. Analysts believe that although aerial spraying does reduce the number coca fields, it is inefficient and has a smaller impact than other methods, such as forced manual eradication.
Farmers have complained to the Colombian government that fumigation has destroyed fields of legal produce, including coffee.