<i>60 Minutes:</i> Herbicide Problems

Congressman Decries Spraying Of Herbicide In Colombia

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) tells CBS "60 Minutes" Correspondent Steve Kroft that spraying herbicide on Colombian coca plants not only fails to curb cocaine production, but it may also pose a health hazard to thousands of innocent people living near the fields.

The spraying program has destroyed hundreds of square miles of coca fields, yet production continues to rise. "Once a field is destroyed, they just go deeper into the forest and they start all over again," says McGovern. "We are not stopping the production…and to me that’s a colossal waste of money."

On his visit to Colombia, Kroft found people suffering from rashes that a Colombian health department worker believes were caused by the spraying. The worker, Nancy Sanchez, also says illnesses like fever, diarrhea and allergies were up 100 percent in the spraying areas and that 2,300 families have complained of sicknesses.

A recent U.S. State Department report said that the main ingredient in the herbicide, glyphosate, was no more irritating than baby shampoo or salt. Rand Beers, the State Department official in charge of the spraying, admits that the herbicide, brand named Roundup in the U.S., can be harmful to humans in high concentrations, but said his program uses concentrations well within safety levels.

Scientists working for the State Department could find no link between the spraying and illnesses. They attributed symptoms to unsanitary conditions, common infections in the region and to chemicals used in the cultivation and processing of coca.

Elsa Nivia, a Colombian agronomist who opposes spraying, tells Kroft her research indicates a much more dangerous concentration of Roundup. "They are applying concentrations up to 26 times higher than what is recommended for agricultural use," she tells Kroft. "Also, they are applying Cosmo-Flux, which quadruples the biological action." Cosmo-flux makes the herbicide more effective by increasing its sticking and penetration power. It is known as a surfactant, something Roundup’s producer, Monsanto, specifically warns its customers against using. Cosmo-flux has never been approved by the EPA for use in the U.S. and its ingredients are a trade secret of its Colombian manufacturer.

Says McGovern, "[The herbicide] is powerful stuff and I think it’s ridiculous to say that we shouldn’t worry about the health impacts…Nobody really can tell me…what the health effects of this spray might be."

This is one of two 60 MINUTES reports this week that is of special interest to the Hispanic community in the U.S.

In the other, Ed Bradley reports on Cuban assets in the U.S. that were frozen for more than 40 years for national security reasons until President Clinton released most of them the night before he left office. The released money went to the families of Cuban-American "Brothers to the Rescue" pilots who won a lawsuit against Cuba for killing the pilots when they shot heir planes down.

60 MINUTES is the only newsmagazine close-captioned in Spanish.

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