Date: Tue, 28 Apr 98 08:45:46 CDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Colombia Wary Of U.S.-Backed Herbicide
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Colombia wary of U.S.-backed herbicide
Reuters, Wednesday 15 April 1998, 10:44 pm Eastern Time
BOGOTA, April 15 (Reuters) - A powerful herbicide Washington wants Colombia to use in its fight against illicit drug crops could turn its dense tropical forests into prairies, a government official said on Wednesday.
Environment Minister Eduardo Verano de la Rosa said the jury was still out on the use of tebuthiuron, which U.S. officials say is the most effective herbicide for the aerial fumigation of Colombia's vast coca leaf and opium poppy crops.
Verano, who spoke in an interview with Radionet news radio, said Colombia would refrain from using the herbicide on anything but an experimental basis pending further tests, since its environmental impact was potentially devastating.
"If everything we've analyzed so far is true, and this has to be proven scientifically, our forests, our massive Amazon forests, could basically be converted into prairies," Verano said.
Unlike glyphosate, a liquid herbicide currently employed in Colombia's drug crop eradication program, Verano said the granular tebuthiuron remains active for 18 months, seeping into ground tablewater and killing any vegetation it comes into contact with.
"This can cause desertification or erosion," Verano said, adding that Colombia's tropical rainforest was "a lung" that the world could ill-afford to destroy.
Environmental watchdogs including the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace have both recommended against using tebuthiuron to spray drug crops until further tests are conducted, particularly on its effects in tropical zones.
Verano said Colombia was anxious to press ahead with its U.S.-backed fight against illicit drug plantations, "but not at the cost of our biodiversity and of our environmental future."
Drug crops increased by almost one-fifth in Colombia last year despite a record expansion in its eradication program, which is the most ambitious in Latin America, according to U.S. anti-drug experts.
According to a U.S. embassy statement issued in January, Colombia now has more than 196,300 acres (79,500 hectares) of coca leaf crops -- the raw material for cocaine, up from 165,984 acres (67,200 hectares) at the end of 1996.
The rise came despite the fact that the National Police, aided by U.S. crop duster pilots and Drug Enforcement Administration advisers, fumigated 101,500 acres (41,000 hectares) of coca and more than 17,000 acres (7,000 hectares) of opium poppies last year -- almost 50 percent more than in 1996.
Eradication efforts have been cut back by nearly 50 percent since late last month, when the United States recommended the grounding due to an engine problem of 40 aging UH-1H (Huey) helicopters it donated to the National Police.
Tebuthiuron is manufactured in the United States by Dow Elanco.
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