Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Jordan

For my first few months living in Jordan, I was sick a lot. At first I just took it as the time needed to get used to new bacteria, but after hearing in mid-May that the UAE banned the importing of seven of Jordan’s main vegetable exports (zucchini, sweet pepper, eggplant, cabbage, green beans, cauliflower and lettuce) “due to increasing levels of chemical pesticide residue found on Jordanian agricultural products”, I started to wonder, was I sick because of all the raw produce I was eating? Pair hearing that news with seeing all of the Monsanto signage on crops along the Airport Road, and I knew I needed to do my own investigative work.

monsanto amman airport road
Monsanto sign spotted on Airport Road, Amman

What is Monsanto?

Founding & Saccharin

Monsanto today is an “agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation”, but they didn’t necessarily start out that way. The company was founded in 1901 and its first chemical product was saccharin, you know, the artificial sweetener with a bad rap for being carcinogenic. Well, Monsanto created it and sold it to Coca Cola to use in their products.

Aspirin & Hybrid Seeds

In the 1920s, they went into industrial chemicals and drugs and became the world’s largest manufacturer of aspirin. Around the 1930s they created the first hybrid seed corn, the precursor to today’s GMOs.

Atomic Bombs & Agent Orange

In the 1940s the company was the main researcher on uranium to be used for the Manhattan Project’s first atomic bomb, which was then dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

hiroshima bombing dead bodies
Hiroshima bombing aftermath

In the 1960s, they partnered with DOW Chemical to create “Agent Orange”, which was used in the US’s invasion of Vietnam and was responsible for the death of half a million Vietnamese civilians.

GMOs

Let’s skip forward to Monsanto today, as the brutal history of the company is enough for a novel itself. Today, Monsanto is best known for being the largest GMO (genetically modified organism) monopoly in the world.

Why are GMOs so bad?

Though the company likes to stand behind the fact that there is no scientific data that proves that GMOs are harmful to humans, we can’t take this at face value. Take the tobacco industry as an example; it took nearly half a century for the US government to publicly admit the harmful effects of smoking. So when I hear GMOs aren’t proven to be dangerous for our health yet, the first thing I think of is that there are many reasons why our governments want to keep this information out of the public eye, actually one main reason, money. And how can we say that there is no scientific data proving GMOs are harmful to our health? Just check out what happened to these rats that were fed GM corn their entire (short) lives:

gmo rats tumors monsanto

Along with the dangers of consuming GMOs, there are a lot of reasons why I don’t want Monsanto produce in my life. There’s the fact that they’re running local farmers out of business by contaminating their fields with their patented seeds and then suing the farmers for growing their seeds without permission. Then there’s the fact that GMOs have been banned in many countries worldwide, heck, they were even banned in Monsanto’s employee cafeterias themselves! If that doesn’t set off an alarm, then I don’t know what would. Then there’s the moral side of things, why do I want to support a company that is responsible for the deaths of millions of people in its history (atomic bombs, agent orange, etc.)?

Monsanto in Jordan

Point taken on to why I’m concerned about the presence of Monsanto in Jordan? Even though the pro-Monsanto argument would be that GM seeds allow for countries with lack of water resources to yield more produce for their population, and since Jordan is ranked second in the world for lack of water resources, some would say Monsanto does more good than harm, but as I outlined above, the cons can’t possibly be worth this pro.

To find out more about Monsanto in Jordan, it was time to investigate the company’s presence here. In doing so, I came across the following article in The Jordan Times:

jordan times gmos june 2017

Needless to say, this left me quite confused. Why would Jordan’s Agriculture Minister say that “GM seeds weren’t to be allowed into the Kingdom” when the Monsanto Middle East Branch is located in, yep, you guessed it, none other than the Hashemite Kingdom’s capital itself? And why would there be visible Monsanto signage on farms all across the Airport Road? These are questions that need answers, but there is nothing on the internet that gives a clear response.

All I could find was that the Jordan Standards and Metrology Organization has a member of their top management, Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zu’bi, Assistant Director General for Surveillance Affairs, who is part of  Jordan’s GMO’s Committee and National Animal Health Committee.

As I wasn’t getting the answers I needed on the web, which makes sense as Monsanto has spent decades suing (and worse) anyone who speaks out against them, I decided to try my luck with finding a way to speak to Mr. Al-Zu’bi myself. Stay tuned for updates on if I ever get through to him…

My Visit to The Monsanto Fields

I still haven’t heard anything from Mr. Al-Zu’bi, so I decided to stop by the Monsanto fields myself to check them out. The gate was wide open, allowing me to walk right in and scope out the place. In addition to rows of covered fields, there was a market (it wasn’t open) and signs for safety precautions for employees and the pesticide spraying schedule. I also noticed that Seminis logos were plastered everywhere as well. Seminis is the largest developer, grower and marketer of hybrid fruit and vegetable seeds in the world.

monsanto-amman.jpg
Inside the Monsanto fields off Airport Road

After about 10 minutes of wandering around, I managed to speak to an employee. He didn’t speak English, so he called up one of the managers to speak to me over the phone. I asked the manager, who notably seemed concerned about why I was calling, about the presence of Monsanto in Jordan and he said they are there only for research and that Monsanto’s notorious pesticide, Roundup, is not used in Jordan. He also said that GMOs are completely illegal in Jordan, that only hybrid seeds are in use (makes sense now why all the Seminis signs everywhere). The next question was…should I be just as nervous as hybrid seeds as GMO seeds?

Short answer. No. Here’s why…

Difference between Hybrid and GMO seeds

The Hybrid seed is not a new invention, it’s a natural process that has been happening for thousands of years. Basically, it is selective breeding. Farmers cross-pollinate two different varieties of related plants to create a new plant variety that is more resistant to detrimental conditions like weather and predatory insects. As I said before, the process is natural, but does have downfalls as it has caused the world to lose an estimated 75 percent of its food biodiversity and has shifted the control over seeds from local farming communities to a select few multinational corporations.

As for GMOs, they are not created using natural methods, but rather with high-tech, lab methods like gene-splicing. GMOs aren’t just about crossing two plants. Take the case of the GMO “Bt corn”, which is created crossing a bacteria (bacillus thuringiensis) with corn to create a plant that is literally laced from the inside out with pesticides. If a bug bites into the corn it will die, which means humans are consuming harmful bacteria as well. One argument for this could be that harmful pesticides don’t have to be sprayed, but isn’t it worse to have the pesticides in every single cell of the produce we are eating instead of being able to wash it off?

The solution

If you want to stay away from harmful chemical pesticides on your food and support local farmers. Go local! Check out the organic farms located in Amman. They both deliver as well.


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