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Argentina- First Country to Approve GMO Wheat and Expects Authorization from Brazil

Last week, the Argentine government approved the first transgenic wheat in the world, tolerant to drought and ammonium glufosinate herbicide. The variety HB4 was developed by biotechnology companies Bioceres (Argentina) and Florimond Desprez (France).  La Nacion writer Fernando Bertello reported that the final approval will depend on the agreement of Brazil, which buys almost the half of the Argentine wheat crop:

“It is approved according to the negotiation with Brazil. It is conditionally approved,” said a government spokesman.

Reuters writer Maximilian Heath reported that Argentine biotechnology company Bioceres expects Brazil to approve its drought resistant HB4 transgenic wheat variety before the start of the next planting, around March 2021. The Brazilian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters. According to the article, the United States, the world’s second largest wheat exporter, has no interest in developing transgenic wheat, according to Wheat Quality Council President Dave Green.

The Clarin newspaper reported that the approval came after “several years of experimental studies” which, according to the Argentine National Commission for Agricultural Biotechnology, showed that these particular crops “do not differ significantly from the risks inherent in conventional cultivation.”

EFE Agro news stated that for years Argentina has tried to promote varieties of transgenic crops in terms of production and exports. The article added that the country has worldwide fame in the area of ​​transgenics, as well as one of the world leaders in agribusiness exporters.

Meanwhile, La Nacion writer Fernando Bertello stated that there is a “concern” by the actors in the chain regarding the reaction of the buying markets for authorization.

In an official note, according the article, 16 entities in the sector expressed that “the Ministry of Agriculture must assume the responsibilities of the direct consequences that can generate economic and commercial costs for all wheat producers, as well as for all the links between commercialization and internal and export transformation.”

The document also recalled that in several countries around the world they tried for years to launch modified wheat, but there was always a negative reaction from consumers. The entities stated that the technology “does not present environmental or public health risks” but warned of “commercial risks” for exports:

“It calls attention that the government decides unilaterally, without consulting the representatives of the wheat chain for commercial approval,” said the official note.

Globo Rural writer Marina Guimarães reported that approval was criticized on social media by users and environmental groups. They warned that the consequences of transgenic crops and their effects on human consumption have not been studied in depth.

On the other hand, Bioceres president Marcelo Carrique and ex-presidents Gustavo Grobocopatel and Víctor Trucco stated in an article published in La Nacion, that for the first time, there is a development for a large harvest that is not in the central countries and in large multinational companies:

“Argentina is leading the technological transformation at an international level,” said Bioceres CEO Federico Trucco, in a note released jointly with the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

Valor Econômico writer Fernanda Pressinott reported that drought-tolerant wheat, according to company information, provides an increase in productivity close to 20% in average production conditions and 40% or more in situations such as extreme droughts. The article added that the genetically modified wheat variety already had licenses from National Food Safety and Quality Service (Senasa) and the National Consultative Commission on Agricultural Biotechnology (Conabia), and now also from the Ministry of Agriculture, too.

Currently, Argentina is the main supplier of cereal to Brazil.  In 2019, of the 11.3 million tons of wheat exported by the country, 45% were destined for the Brazilian market. Other important destinations for Argentine wheat are Indonesia, which in 2019 bought 2 million tons of the cereal, as well as Chile and Kenya.

Joana Colussi is a journalist and visiting researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Previously, she has reported on various agribusiness and economics topics for prominent Brazilian media publications, such as Grupo Globo affiliates. Joana holds a Master’s degree in Agribusiness, and is a Ph.D. candidate in Management at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS-Brazil).

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