Plan Colombia


Project Home
Oil Responses
Enviro Monitoring
Plan Colombia
  Spraying Report
Indigenous Rights
The Secoya People
Project History
How You Can Help
Our Funders

ISIS Publications
Contact us

Projects Overview
  MilWaste Program
  Amazon Project
  Quantum Physics
  Science Dialogue
  Recoding Life
  ISIS Fellows


March 19, 2002


The U.S. State Department says its "crop eradication" spray campaigns are not harming Colombian citizens, but has refused to provide complete information on herbicide ingredients, concentrations, and conditions of application. Meanwhile, substantial evidence indicates that aerial spray campaigns in Colombia are damaging food crops, delicate tropical ecosystems, and human health.

What is being sprayed in Colombia?

The herbicides sprayed over Colombia are a chemical mixture that has never been tested. They are being sprayed in concentrations that exceed the manufacturer's recommendations, in combination with other additives not approved for use in the U.S., and, in many if not all cases, with methods that would be illegal in the U.S.

According to the U.S. State Department, "the spray mixture [used] against coca throughout Colombia...contains three components: water, a commercially available formulation of the herbicide glyphosate, and the surfactant cosmo-flux 411f." (2) There is strong evidence that the herbicide formulation used is Roundup Ultra, made by the agrochemical company Monsanto, although this has not been officially confirmed by the U.S. Government. (3) Information distributed by the State Department focuses on the active ingredient, glyphosate. However:

  • 14.5% of Roundup Ultra is a surfactant, the precise identity of which has not been disclosed. Surfactants can be a significant source of toxicity of glyphosate herbicides. (4)
  • In Colombia, herbicides are applied over acres at a time with no prior warning to farmers and their families, in a manner clearly not in accordance with the manufacturer's label recommendations. In the U.S., such failure to follow the label instructions would be a violation of Federal law. (5)
  • In Colombia, the surfactant Cosmo-Flux 411F is added to the mix even though the label for Roundup Ultra also warns that "this is an end-use product. Monsanto does not intend and has not registered it for reformulation." (6). The ingredients of Cosmo-Flux 411F have not been disclosed. Neither the U.S. nor the Colombian government has made available any studies on this additive's effects, alone or in combination with Roundup Ultra; thus there is no basis for assuming it is safe to spray on people, food crops, and water sources.
  • The herbicides used against coca crops in Colombia are both more concentrated and applied in greater doses than the maximum levels recommended by the manufacturer on the U.S. label. The spray mixture used in Colombia contains 44% Roundup Ultra by volume. (7) In contrast, the U.S. label for Roundup Ultra allows concentrations of 1.6% to 7.7% (8). The U.S. label states that in most situations aerial application should not exceed 1 quart per acre of the formulated product. (9) In Colombia, the rate is almost 4 1/2 times that amount. (10)

Health & Economic Effects     Environmental Effects & Alternatives

1 Prepared by and (c) 2002 Jim Oldham (Amazon Projects Director) and Rachel Massey (Research Fellow) of the Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies (Prescott House, 893 West Street, Amherst, MA, 01002;;, with Phillip Cryan. Opinions, analysis, interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the authors and not those of the ISIS Institute, its officers, staff, Fellows, or members.

2 U.S. State Department, written answer to questions from U.S. Representative James McGovern (D, MA), (March 14, 2002.)

3 The State Department has acknowledged that a Roundup product is being used (Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State, "Fact Sheet: Eradication of Illicit Crops: Frequently Asked Questions," November 30, 2001) but has not specified which. Frequent reports in the press of the use of Roundup Ultra have been confirmed by the Narcotics Division of the Colombian National Police in information provided to the Colombian People's Ombudsman. [Eduardo Cifuentes Muñoz, Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman, "Responses to questions from the Colombian Congress" (July 2001)]. Also, the the composition of Roundup Ultra provided in its Material Safety Data Sheet available at is 41% glyphosate, 14.5% surfactant, and 44.5% water, which corresponds exactly to the description provided by the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá of the herbicide [Information provided by William Duncan of the Anti-Narcotics Section of the U.S. Embassy, to Lisa Haugaard of Latin America Working Group. (February 20, 2002)]. However, Dr. Anna Cederstav (pers. comm.) of the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense reports that recent information from the EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances points to the use of a different glyphosate herbicide, Roundup SL, considerably more toxic than Roundup Ultra. This requires further clarification from the government.

4 See, for example, Sawada, Y., et al., "Probable toxicity of surface-active agent in commercial herbicide containing glyphosate," The Lancet 1:8580 (1988), p. 299.

5 Roundup Ultra sample label, 1999. available at (visited March 12, 2002).

6 Roundup Ultra sample label, 1999.

7 U.S. State Department, written answer to questions from U.S. Representative McGovern Op. Cit. See also Narcotics Division of the Colombian National Police. "Dosis De Aplicación y Composición de la Mezcla Utilizada Según Tipo de Cultivo" (table provided to members of the Colombian Congress, reproduced in Anna Cederstav, "Rejoinder to the State Department's Nariño Study,", visited March 1, 2002.)

8 Roundup Ultra sample label, 1999, p.3. Section 7.1. (The label calls for mixing one quart of herbicide with 3 to 15 gallons of water "unless otherwise specified in this label." None of the exceptions appear to apply to the wide ranging, aerial spraying of coca crops as carried out in Colombia.)

9 Ibid.

10 U.S. State Department, written answer to questions from U.S. Representative McGovern Op. Cit. See also Narcotics Division of the Colombian National Police. Op. Cit.