Ar­gentina first na­tion to ap­prove drought-re­sis­tant GMO wheat, farm in­dus­try balks

Business World - - Agribusine­ss -

BUENOS AIRES — Ar­gentina on Fri­day for­mally be­came the first coun­try in the world to ap­prove the use of drought-re­sis­tant ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GMO) wheat, prompt­ing fierce crit­i­cism by the coun­try’s mas­sive ex­port agri­cul­ture in­dus­try.

Bio­ceres’ BIOX.BA HB4 wheat is re­sis­tant to drought and tol­er­ates the her­bi­cide glu­fos­i­nate sodium, a com­bi­na­tion the com­pany says can help boost yields on dry years. But the gov­ern­ment said the prod­uct can­not be sold be­fore Brazil, Ar­gentina’s big­gest wheat buyer, ap­proves its im­por­ta­tion.

Last year, 45% of the 11.3 mil­lion tons of wheat ex­ported by Ar­gentina went to neigh­bor­ing Brazil, which has not com­mented on the prospects of it ap­prov­ing the pur­chase of HB4 wheat.

Many farm groups in Ar­gentina ob­jected to the gov­ern­ment’s ap­proval of the prod­uct, over con­cerns it could prove a stigma for ex­porters.

“Not only are wheat and flour ex­ports put at risk, but also pel­lets, starch, gluten, baked goods, noo­dles and all the prod­ucts (that re­quire ad­di­tional pro­cess­ing),” said a state­ment signed by re­gional farm­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tions, traders, and the in­flu­en­tial Cham­ber of Ce­real Ex­porters (CEC). No other coun­tries have yet ap­proved the im­por­ta­tion of GMO wheat, leav­ing Ar­gen­tine farm­ers with lit­tle in­cen­tive to plant it. En­vi­ron­men­tal groups have warned that not enough is yet known about GMO crops, treated with weed killers like glu­fos­i­nate sodium, for them to be safely con­sumed by hu­mans.

A green light from Brazil would not trig­ger Bio­ceres to im­me­di­ately com­mer­cially launch the new tech­nol­ogy be­fore get­ting ap­proval from other mar­kets, CEO Fed­erico Trucco told Reuters on Thurs­day.

As­so­ci­a­tions linked to the farm sup­ply chain in Ar­gentina warned in the state­ment that na­tional and in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies are al­ready re­quest­ing as­sur­ances that the wheat they pur­chase does not have ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tions — in ad­di­tion to its de­rived flour.

“The dam­age that would oc­cur to the Ar­gen­tine wheat mar­ket would be ir­repara­ble and ir­re­versible,” the group said, adding that the gov­ern­ment did not con­sult them be­fore ap­prov­ing the va­ri­ety.

The HB4 wheat va­ri­ety was de­vel­oped by Tri­gall Ge­net­ics, a joint ven­ture be­tween Bio­ceres BIOX.A and France’s Flo­ri­mond De­sprez.

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