Exclusive: Argentina first country to approve GMO wheat

FILE PHOTO: A bird flies over a field of wheat on farmland near Azul, Argentina September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina has approved HB4 drought-resistant GMO wheat by biotechnology firm Bioceres SA, the company and the government said on Wednesday, making it the first country in the world to approve a strain of GMO wheat.

No countries have yet given the green light to imports of GMO products and Bioceres said it will only begin marketing HB4 once it is approved for importation by Brazil, the biggest destination for Argentine wheat.

“Today Argentina is leading technological transformation at an international level,” the CEO of Bioceres, Federico Trucco, said in a statement issued in conjunction with the country’s science and technology ministry.

“HB4 technology provides seeds that are more tolerant to drought, minimizing production losses, and giving greater predictability to yields,” the ministry said in the statement.

While other crops such as corn and soybeans have been widely genetically modified to improve yield or withstand threats, GMO wheat has not been approved anywhere for commercial production because of consumers’ concerns. Wheat is primarily used for human consumption.

“I will not plant HB4 wheat, and I would not recommend that anyone else does, until it has been approved by importing countries. It seems risky in the sense that we could end up with crops that no one wants to buy,” said Francisco Santillan, who manages farms in Cordoba, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires province.

Last year, 45% of the 11.3 million tonnes of wheat harvested in Argentina was shipped to Brazil. The head of the Brazilian Wheat Industry Associations, Rubens Barbosa, told Reuters the group was following the situation with interest.

“We have requested information from the government because no countries allow the importation of GMO wheat,” said Gustavo Idigoras, head of Argentina’s CIARA CEC grains export industry chamber.

Dave Green, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council, a U.S. trade group, said: “I don’t hear anything about GMO wheat efforts here. None of our export customers want any.”

Reporting by Maximilian Heath and Hugh Bronstein; Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago and Roberto Samora in New York; Writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Richard Pullin