Wildlife Fund Comments on Glyphosate, October 30
Comments on Glyphosate
World Wildlife Fund (30 October 2000)
Contact: Lauren Spurrier
applications of the herbicide glyphosate as part of Plan Colombia's drug
eradication plan raise many concerns about the potential for this to cause
serious and irreversible harm to human health, wildlife and ecosystem
function. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide better known
by its trade name of Roundup, is acutely toxic to virtually all plants
and frees. It is non-selective meaning that foliar applications of Roundup
will stunt the growth or kill anything that is green, when the dose is
high enough for a sufficient amount of the chemical to be taken into the
tissues of the plant. The reliance on aerial application and wide dispersal
of coca plants among crop- and forest- lands means that non-target and
off-site exposure to people, plants, wildlife and aquatic systems to Roundup
may be extensive. In addition, the inert ingredients mixed with the Roundup
to increase its effectiveness can be as, or more, toxic to humans, wildlife
and food webs than the pesticide itself.
and environmental fate studies the U.S. EPA requires of pesticide manufacturers
during the registration process may not be adequate to asses the impacts
resulting from Plan Colombia's actual use of glyphosate (aerial applications,
product formulation, frequency and rate of application, etc.) especially
given the soils, topography, climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall,
etc) plant and animal species found in Colombia. In addition, these studies
focus on the pesticide active ingredient alone, not the combination of
inert ingredients actually applied, thereby giving an incomplete assessment
of the toxic threat. Finally, research has neither adequately addressed
nor actually assessed the environmental impact of glyphosate at the ecosystem
level given its primary use for agricultural applications.
To evaluate the potential
short- and long-mn ecological impacts of "Plan Colombia's" use
of Roundup, numerous direct and indirect impacts on people, plants and
wildlife, and ecosystem function have to be assessed-individually and
in combination. The range of potential impacts include:
- Eradication of non-target plants and trees, both in target areas
and off-site (food and cash crops, other indigenous plant species,
forests, aquatic vegetation, etc). Because Roundup is extraordinarily
non-selective any vegetation exposed to a sufficient amount of the
chemical will die. This would include areas affected by drift resulting
from aerial applications.
- Increased potential
for soil erosion and stream and river sedimentation. The loss of vegetative
cover and root structure leads to increase in water movement through
the soil, increased nutrient loss and increased erosion from the targeted
spray areas. Shallow mountainside soils are extremely vulnerable to
soil erosion and can be turned into a hardpan wasteland in just a
few years. Aquatic organisms and vegetation also, of course, suffer
from soil erosion.
of soil bacteria and fungi growth and function. Essential bacteria
that fix nitrogen in soil and fungi that facilitate nutrient uptake
by a plant's root system are inhibited which will have an impact on
crop production and plant regeneration.
- Toxicity to
aquatic organisms, including fish and invertebrates that come into
direct contact with Roundup as a result of aerial application. Rainwash
(resulting from rain storms after applications of Roundup) will also
introduce Roundup directly into streams and rivers.
- Actions taken
by people when they lose their food and cash crops. Some potential
impacts include hunger, malnutrition, the loss of income, and migration
to more ecologically vulnerable locations-deeper into forests or higher
up in the hills.
- Adverse impacts
on wildlife. The loss of plant diversity limits availability of preferred
foods, shelter, and breeding/rearing areas for young.
- Adverse impacts
on wildlife of exposure to Roundup and its inert ingredients through
dermal contact to fur and or skin, inhaled mist, and eating sprayed
foliage or other food sources. Effects can be mild to severe. Some
studies link exposure to Roundup with potential endocrine system modulated
effects, reproductive problems including decreased sperm counts, and
immune system dysfunction. A recent study linked Roundup to the inhibition
- Alteration of
natural plant succession, diversity and density resulting from destruction
of non-target plants, including aquatic plants and algae. Increased
potential for the invasion of exotic plant species. More sensitive
plant species and rare and endangered native plants may be eliminated
altogether or be vulnerable to interference with fruiting ability
or seed germination.
Questions to ask
those responsible for implementation of Plan Colombia:
1. Describe the product
formulation of glyphosate being used, including inert ingredients (surfactants
2. Have, or are you
planning on, applying in tank mixes with glyphosate, any other chemical
active ingredients (herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, growth regulators,
3. Describe application
rates, method(s) of application, frequency of application, and target
4. Given the reliance
on aerial application for glyphosate, provide information on the type
of aircraft used, expected elevation over fields during application, and
anticipated (and actual) drift area.
5. In anticipated
and actual drift areas, describe the type of vegetation affected.
6. Describe the safeguards
Plan Colombia is taking to ensure that the use of the product (application
rates and frequency, methods of application, and other safety precautions)
are in compliance with all United States and Colombian pesticide use and
safety laws and used according to the manufacturer's label requirements.
7. Describe the risk
mitigation measures implemented to minimize non-target and off site impacts
including measures implemented to minimize contamination of water through
runoff, soil erosion and spray drift. Provide the name of the agency(ies)
and a contact person responsible for implementation of risk mitigation
8. Are there plans
to monitor ecological impacts resulting from aerial application of Roundup?