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Local Journalists Dig Deeper into GMO Policy in Armenia

Our summary of findings from an extensive investigation by local journalists

(Photo: AHPC)

A lengthy report was  published in the independent online weekly magazine EVN Report in response to recent criticism of an event hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Armenia, which featured representatives from American agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto. The goal of the Nov. 1 business forum was “to strengthen commercial ties between American and Armenian agribusinesses,” and updates about the event were published on the Embassy’s Facebook page.

Negative reaction from the public ensued shortly afterward, facilitated by a Facebook post by System of A Down lead singer Serj Tankian, who called on followers to protest Monsanto’s presence in Armenia: “When I’m in Armenia and bite into an apple, it’s pure, crisp and delicious, as it is the result of thousands of years of agriculture and cultivation. Let it remain so, please. I can’t find apples like that in the U.S. thanks to Monsanto.”

A number of opinion pieces soon appeared in local and international Armenian media outlets opposing the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Armenia’s farming economy:

Many facts regarding the precedent of GMO seeds in Armenia, however, remained unclear. In response to the uncertainty, EVN Report launched a 10-day investigation involving interviews with representatives from a wide array of institutions in the country’s agricultural, international development, public health, and legal sectors.

The report revealed that, unaware to many, Monsanto has had a presence in Armenia already spanning nearly two decades. The local distributor of Monsanto seeds in Armenia is a company called Agroline Limited, which has the exclusive rights to selling seeds from Dutch-based companies Seminis and De Ruiter Seeds, both bought out by Monsanto in 2005. The report found, though, that Monsanto’s indirect presence in the country dates back as far as 1997.

The report also demonstrated that the seemingly straightforward question, “Are GMO seeds being distributed in Armenia?” does not have a strict yes or no answer. “After conducting intensive research, speaking with officials from relevant ministries, specialists in agribusiness, representatives and distributors of Monsanto products, and others,” EVN Report editors wrote, “there are more questions than answers.”

The official answer is no, GMO seeds are not being distributed. According to the director of Agroline Limited and Monsanto’s representative in Russia, only hybridized seeds are sold to farmers in Armenia. Hybrid seeds are those that have been bred to combine the desired traits of two pure parent lines in the first generation (a process that would could take a decade or more to occur naturally). They are different from GMOs, which require an alteration of genetic material in ways that would never could occur in nature.

The unofficial answer, however, is that no one is sure. Armenia’s lack of regulation and technology to assess the GMO/hybrid content of seeds makes any official statistics about the presence of GMO seeds in Armenia nearly impossible to assess. “Armenia is still not able to prove if a given food that enters the country contains GMOs or not,” Gagik Manucharyan, head of the Environmental Protection Policy Department of the Ministry of Nature Protection, is quoted as saying. Although hybrid seeds have been circulating Armenia’s economy for decades, there is only one lab, in operation since 2010, that claims to be able to do GMO testing and analysis.

Representatives from Agroline Limited and Center for Agricultural and Rural Development suggested that up to 90 percent of seeds in Armenia are of the hybrid variety. That number was strongly contested by Armenia’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Ashot Harutyunyan.

The article raised questions about some of the negative consequences of seed modification and hybridization. Unlike regular seeds, which naturally yield new seeds every year, hybrid seeds are engineered in such a way that they are only good for one year, allowing distributors to control the means of agricultural production and force small farmers to purchase a new batch of seeds annually, a cumbersome burden for Armenia’s impoverished farmers, who make up 30 percent of the population but only 19.6 percent of the country’s GDP (according to a report by FAO). Also, how will the abundance of hybrid seeds (and how has it already) affected the country’s “purebred,” indigenous seeds?

One of the threats that farming with GMO and hybrid seeds poses to Armenia that was absent from the report is the potential for disincentivizing farmland diversity. This phenomenon has been seen on U.S. farms, caused both directly and indirectly by the cultivation of genetically modified seeds, and it has been the object of intense criticism in recent years. The monocrop cornfields in Iowa, for example, were described in depth in Michael Pollan’s best-selling 2006 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. In the 10 years since the book was released, concerted action has been taken in the U.S. to reintroduce diversification into the farms. According to a 2016 article by Pollan in the Washington Post, there are now more than 8,000 farmers markets in America, an increase of 180 percent, and sales of organic food have doubled from $16.7 billion to over $40 billion since the release of his book over a decade ago.

From the perspective of agricultural diversity, where does Armenia stand currently, and what does it have to lose through the cultivation of GMO and hybrid seeds? And, generally speaking, where does Armenia stand on contemporary practices and technology in agriculture (i.e., fertilizers, pesticides, machinery)? The EVN Report investigation revealed that today over 90 percent of agricultural machinery in the country is outdated, resulting in high maintenance costs and low productivity, but these questions warrant further investigation, as lack of innovation in this sector is likely what the U.S. Embassy hoped to address by bringing representatives from Monsanto and Valmont in the first place.

The report’s main argument was that, regardless of the health, environmental, or economic pros and cons of GMOs, the present lack of agricultural policy and regulation in Armenia is a weak spot that requires immediate attention. In the face of such little regulation, not having a firm stance surrounding the possibility of future GMOs in Armenia poses unforeseen risks to the country’s food sovereignty and its ecological diversity.

Read EVN’s full report here.

11 Comments on Local Journalists Dig Deeper into GMO Policy in Armenia

  1. avatar Vahan Zanoyan // November 22, 2017 at 3:20 pm // Reply

    This is by far the most dangerous development for Armenian agriculture. Agriculture is already threatened by the very poor conditions in the villages, which government policy of enlarging communities is only making worse, and now the introduction of GMO would end viable agricultural development. This has to be stopped at all cost.

  2. avatar Haig Thomasian // November 22, 2017 at 4:09 pm // Reply

    Very Poor Conditions is an understatement.
    Stop hybrid seeds supply to Armenia and no to introduction of GMO EVIL in Armenia, the health of the population in general is already in utmost poor conditions for a number of reasons including mining.

  3. Im sorry to say our Armenians leaders will gladly take money from Monsanto in bribes for introducing their ruin, poison, cancer causing food source monopoly into Armenia. Monsanto is worse then Turks or Azeri’s. Pure evil vile. How do we stop this?

  4. The pitchforks and torched mob have no interest in real facts or science – it is more like religious bigotry: fanatical activists claim something is true and then resort to threats, lies and misdirection if anyone actually dare ask for proof. Mr Tankian, apples in America are tasteless because supermarkets consider physical appearance and shelf life more important than taste and they have chosen to promote the types of apples that provide these things. Monsanto has nothing to do with any of that, and has no connection with apple production, anywhere. However, perfectly round hard tasteless American apples are ideal for throwing at puffed-up musicians ;). In Armenia apples are cash-crop valued at about the same level as weeds: each year hundreds of thousands of apples are just left to drop and rot because they have no commercial value. If Tankian wants to help apple producers in Armenia to continue to produce the apples he likes he should be encouraging Armenians to eat more fruit, and for Armenia to develop ways of adding value to apples by processing them into other products.

    • avatar History with Hagop // November 22, 2017 at 8:33 pm //

      That being the case, GMO and Monsanto still do not belong in Armenia, or anywhere else for that matter. I hope you are not suggesting that it’s OK for Monsanto to enter Armenia based on – “science”…?

    • Too bad “Steve” doesn’t sign his real name, thus pre-empting the suspicion that he may be a Monsanto troll. The points and counter-arguments “Steve” raises are, in my opinion, very valid.
      I also want to congratulate the “Armenian Weekly Staff” for finally publishing a balanced article on this damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t issue. Too bad the AW also published the “Pitchforks-and-torches time” inflammatory article.
      We don’t need to duplicate the Syrian conflict here! What we need in Armenia is reasonable people who make reasoned decisions based on correct information.

    • Supermarkets have no choice because the US corporate funded bribed government has allows a company like Monsanto to re-create our NATURAL FOODS supply into non natural, genetically modified food to basically monopolize for profit, with out any clue as to what the long term health effects on humans will be. This is a terrible gamble at best and disastrous at worst. Also the idea to monopolize the seed supply and also create chemicals which are disastrous to pretty much all natural environments including humans which are proven to cause cancer, yet be totally resistant to its own genetically modified food invention, is criminal and evil. No Thanks. Falling apples to the floor in Armenia has no relevancy as to their genetic make up and yes they do taste better because they are natural.. I say keep that poison and corporate scourge out of Armenia.

  5. I wonder if Steve is one of the embedded Monsanto or the other notorious chemical company “staff” changing Armenia’s fruits and veggies to include monsanto’ s poison. While Serj Tankian has the health of the Armenian people at heart.
    Perfect shape of apples in stores may have something to do with the taste because unlike humans, worms will not eat them and or deform them. Stop advertising Monsanto.

  6. avatar Antoine S. Terjanian // November 27, 2017 at 10:11 am // Reply

    Too bad “Steve” doesn’t sign his real name, thus pre-empting the suspicion that he may be a Monsanto troll. The points and counter-arguments “Steve” raises are, in my opinion, very valid.
    I also want to congratulate the “Armenian Weekly Staff” for finally publishing a balanced article on this damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t issue. Too bad the AW also published the “Pitchforks-and-torches time” inflammatory article.
    We don’t need to duplicate the Syrian conflict here! What we need in Armenia is reasonable people who make reasoned decisions based on correct information.

  7. Thank you for this informative article. The Monsanto effect can have a devastating impact on Armenia. For a blueprint of what is in store one should look at the experience of Burkino Faso. https://www.yahoo.com/news/special-report-monsantos-gm-cotton-sowed-trouble-africa-110531922.html

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