Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dispelling the Myth that Everything is Organic in Armenia

A friend recently shared on Facebook a blog post by another friend of mine, which elicited several comments on the myth that everything is "naturally organic" in Armenia. Though I knew about the use of pesticides, there's a lot that I didn't know, and so I asked the person who left the most detailed comments, Ursula Kazarian (who happens to be the president and founder of the Armenian Environmental Network), if I could publish her comments on my blog. She agreed, so here it is. Kind of like a guest post :)

"Factory farming is resource-intensive and so we do not see it on the same scale in Armenia as we do in the West. 'Organic' has come to mean a lot of things to a lot of people, which is why I avoided using that term in my first comment. Industrial and mining activities before, during, and after the Soviet era have contributed to the contamination of many fields which would certainly fail organic certification. Even beekeepers who harvest 100% of the product and feed bees sugar to earn more in profits would fail organic certification. (This happens more than people think.) Last I checked, only one organization in Armenia is licensed to certify organic produce for export (i.e. to international standards), although I know there is at least one other initiative currently being organized for that purpose, as well. Most people recognize the effects of improper disposal of mining tailings or the highly probable, yet grossly under-researched and under-reported, impacts of radiation from the Metzamor nuclear power plant on nearby crops (and people). Fewer are aware of the use of pesticides as you and Adrineh mentioned, as well as GMOs and even the introduction of bovine growth hormone. The Soviets effected a great deal of reshuffling of land use policy, draining wetlands (and creating highly salinated soils) in the Ararat valley and elsewhere, and otherwise modifying resource use plans to suit geopolitical needs at the time (such as relocating populations to border areas where little to no water resources existed to sustainably support any sizeable communities). However, the introduction of new crop species, as well as modern pesticides, GMOs, etc., as in so many other countries, is the product of international aid and multilateral lending policies. 


"Then there are the examples that would be less well-regarded if they were more widely known. I didn't mean to write as much as I have, but I know that there is an ongoing popular belief that everything in Armenia is 'naturally organic,' and I believe it is important that people know that this isn't true. There is a difference between factual assertions and emotional or observational assessments, which Alex himself is quick to point out and which is why I would not chime in on any of his cultural observations, which are by their very nature subjective and open to interpretation. I would agree with his observation about the simplicity of the food supply, if we exclude the (often, though not always, imported) highly processed foods available in corner stores and now also in supermarkets. But I think it's important that we not further propagate, intentionally or unintentionally, the erroneous conclusion that whole foods make healthy foods. I once experienced pesticide poisoning from a fetoosh salad in Yerevan that kept me bedridden for a week, and that was as ostensibly healthy and whole a meal as it gets."

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