UPDATE 1-Colombia gov't confirms suspension of aerial coca spraying
(Adds U.S. Embassy comment)
BOGOTA May 15 (Reuters) - Colombia will suspend aerial fumigation of illegal coca plants in light of a number of studies linking the herbicide involved to cancer, a move that marks the end of a decades-long strategy in the country's fight against drug trafficking.
Spraying coca leaves, which are used to make cocaine, has been a key part of Colombia's efforts to curb production of some 300 tonnes of cocaine a year that make it one of the world's biggest producers of the drug.
For two decades, the Andean country has used the herbicide glyphosate to fumigate coca, with financial and technical help from the United States. The strategy also included spraying of poppies, used to make heroin.
"We've taken the decision by a majority of seven to one, to suspend the spraying of areas with glyphosate," health minister Alejandro Gaviria said, referring to a vote taken by the National Narcotics Council late on Thursday.
Various scientific reports, including one by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March, have suggested that the weed killer is likely carcinogenic to humans, Gaviria said.
Spraying will be halted after administrative formalities are completed, which could take several weeks, he added. More than 1.6 million hectares (3.9 million acres) of land in Colombia have been sprayed using the chemical.
Glyphosate is a key ingredient in the world's most widely used herbicide, Roundup, produced by Monsanto Co.
Monsanto officials have said the chemical has been proven safe for decades and the company has demanded a retraction from the WHO over its report linking the herbicide to cancer. Continuación...