Colombia Could Replace Aerial Sprays With Caterpillars in Fight Against Cocaine

By McCarton Ackerman 05/19/15

Despite the ingenuity of their proposal, Colombia has raised concerns over their use of coca-eating caterpillars.


Colombia is officially pulling the plug on aerial spraying of herbicides to eradicate coca plants throughout the country, but their all-natural plan to address the problem is raising eyebrows among some experts.

The World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on cancer recently classified glyphosate, the herbicide used in the aerial spraying, as a carcinogen. More than four million acres of land throughout Colombia have been sprayed with the glyphosate.

The Drug and Security Research Center at the University of the Andes in Bogota confirmed that in coca growing regions sprayed with glyphosate between 2003-07, there was a marked increase in hospital visits for skin rashes, respiratory problems and even miscarriages. In response, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he will end its use and replace it with “manual” alternatives to coca plant eradication.

One of these alternatives is using a special kind of moth, Eloria noyesi, that lay their eggs on the leaves. Once the eggs hatch a week later, caterpillars emerge and feed on the coca plants. Each moth can lay up to 100 eggs in a month and thousands of them can be bred in laboratories before being released. Santos said it was essential to have a new system in place that was “more efficient and less damaging.”

However, the idea is simply a rehash of an identical proposal shut down a decade ago over concerns that the butterflies would cause “ecological mischief.” Ricardo Vargas, director of the Colombian environmental group Andean Action, said in 2005 that a concentrated release of the moths could threaten other plants besides the coca species.

Other officials are still continuing to use glyphosate despite the findings in the WHO report, particularly since other organizations have released findings contradicting it. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment said last year that glyphosate was non-carcinogenic, while the European Union’s Glyphosate Task Force concluded that it posed “no unacceptable risk to humans, animals or the environment."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.