Colombia’s Constitutional Court on Thursday maintained a judicial ban on the aerial spraying of illicit coca crops with glyphosate.
The court said that the government would first have to prove that the weed killer was not harmful to human health and the environment.
However, President Ivan Duque had asked the court to lift the ban, arguing that glyphosate, suspected of being carcinogenic, was a necessary tool in the fight against cocaine trafficking.
The government says glyphosate is the most efficient way to eradicate coca,the plant cocaine is made from.
It added that glyphosate saves lives, because it can replace manual uprooting done by soldiers who would risk stepping on mines planted by drug traffickers.
However, the court maintained the strict conditions it had set earlier, including having to provide scientific proof that glyphosate is safe and having to consult communities in areas where fumigation would take place.
The court said, the government did not need to prove the total absence of any possible harm, because that was practically impossible.
It added that the government has not provided proof of having met the conditions so far. It will be up to the National Drug Council to determine whether it does so.
Justice Minister, Margarita Cabello said the government would seek permission from the council “to use aerial spraying as one more tool in the fight against illegal crops.’’
The cocaine that can be manufactured in that area is worth 2.7 billion dollars on the local market.
The previous government suspended spraying with glyphosate in 2015 after the Constitutional Court said it could carry health risks.
Officials in the south-western department of Narino, which produces the most coca among Colombia’s 32 departments, told dpa glyphosate is not an effective means of dissuading farmers from growing the lucrative plant.
Narino Governor Camilo Romero said in an interview , about 3.8 million litres of glyphosate were sprayed in Narino between 2005 and 2014, but the surface under coca cultivation increased by 4,000 hectares during that time.
“Families that live off illegal crops, after their land is sprayed, move to another territory in order to sow coca again,’’ Romero said.
The governor also disputed claims by the government that glyphosate is cheap adding that eradication with glyphosate costs 72 million pesos (23,000 dollars) per hectare, twice as much as subsidising voluntary crop substitution.
Farmers near the port city of Tumaco told dpa that previous glyphosate sprayings had killed their food crops while coca plants survived.
“Bees died, parakeets died. Coca was the only one of our crops that resisted the glyphosate,” farmer Javier Ortega said.
Austria this month became the first EU country to ban glyphosate, which has faced a flood of lawsuits in the U.S. over allegations that it causes cancer.