Factories Accused of Using Carcinogens in Dairy Products…No Follow-Up

Two months have passed since the head of the Farmers Union accused dairy factories of using "carcinogens" in their products and accused the Jordan Food and Drug Administration [JFDA] of "failure" to perform its control mission. So far, newspapers have not followed up on these serious accusations.

On 14 October 2014, Al Dustour newspaper published a report about dairy products being sold at reduced prices at some shopping centers. The report attributed an accusation to Engineer Mohammed al-Ouran, director general of the Farmers Union, against "some dairy factories and plants" to the effect that they use "carcinogens." Al-Ouran said that these include "starch, sodium benzoate, and hydrogenated vegetable oils," besides "tiamlisin," (name in italics as rendered in Arabic) which he said is a substance that "prevents one from benefiting from antibacterial agents and affects the immunity of the body." According to Al-Ouran, this information is the outcome of "laboratory reports and tests of dairy samples in Jordan," which the Farmers Union and "special committees" had looked at.

Al-Ouran accused the JFDA of "failure of control," demanding that monitoring agencies adopt measures to control the dairy industry in Jordan, including "obliging factories to put a label on containers, showing the tax number, the approval of the Ministry of Health, the number of approval of the Standards [and Metrology Organization], the number of approval of the JFDA, the number of the municipal license, and the dates of production and expiry," besides mentioning the real ingredients of the product.

The accusations by the head of the Farmers Union had been preceded by similar accusations made by Minister of Agriculture Akif al-Zoubi in a meeting with reporters in which he announced 16 amendments to instructions pertaining to the Agriculture Law. According to the news reported by Al Dustour, Al Rai, Al Ghad, and the website of Al Sabeel on 20 August 2014, Al-Zoubi announced the existence of "a large number of unlicensed dairy factories that use unhealthy substances in their products that could have serious effects on the health of citizens."

The failure to follow up on this issue was not only confined to the case that followed the statements of the minister of agriculture and the statements by the head of the Farmers Union. As a matter of fact, "the lack of follow-up" was manifest in not completing the minimum level of required information in the press reports on these statements at the time. In the report about the minister of agriculture, the minister"s statement was referred to casually in the coverage without mentioning some basic information concerning the names of the "unhealthy substances," which he said are used in dairy products. He did not mention any piece of information about the "serious effects" that they have. Also, he did not give even an estimated number of the dairy factories and only said that it is "a large number." Speaking about these substances, the minister said that they "could" have serious effects on one"s health. Not being decisive in a statement of this kind by a minister is not understandable. Is it proven that these substances pose a health hazard for a person or not?

As for the statements by the head of the Farmers Union, they mentioned the names of the substances, but they did not clarify the identity of the party that carried out the laboratory tests, which formed the basis of his statements, and when these tests were conducted. Furthermore, he did not mention the identity of the "special committees" with which he said the Farmers Union cooperated on this issue and had a look at the results of these tests. As for the most important point, it is that these statements included specialized scientific information about the serious effects of the said substances on the health of the human being. However, this information was not attributed to a specialized entity to confirm its correctness. Lastly, the minister of agriculture spoke only about "unlicensed" dairy products, while the head of the Farmers Union did not address the legal status of the factories that he spoke about. This is a key piece of information.

Questions about the safety of Jordanian dairy products are not new. In 2011, debate in the media about this issue had reached its zenith. At the time, the debate revolved around the use by large factories of imported powdered milk in a large percentage of their products, which caused huge losses to local cow farmers. There were also accusations of using harmful substances; one of them was mentioned in a report published by Al Dustour on 7 September 2011. The interesting thing about this issue is that the statements attributed to Al-Ouran in the report of 2014 were attributed, verbatim, to MP Wasfi al-Rawashdah in the 2011 report. Al-Rawashdah was then chairman of the Agricultural Committee in the Lower House of Parliament, which discussed the issue. This needs an explanation.