Brazil's Abitrigo says millers won't buy GMO wheat from Argentina

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian domestic flour millers are threatening to stop buying wheat from Argentina if Brazil commercially approves GMO wheat imports from the neighboring country, Rubens Barbosa, head of the Brazilian Wheat Industry Association (Abitrigo), said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: A combine harvester is used to harvest wheat in a field in the village of General Belgrano, 160 km (100 miles) west of Buenos Aires, December 18, 2012. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

Local millers are against processing GMO wheat coming from Argentina or anywhere, according to Abitrigo, and that sentiment is shared by groups representing bakers and other companies that use wheat to make products like bread and biscuits.

Brazil’s biosecurity agency CTNBio is evaluating a request to approve the sale in Brazil of genetically modified wheat produced in Argentina, and a decision on the matter could be taken next week.

Argentina’s Bioceres SA developed a wheat that has been genetically modified to resist drought and ammonium glufosinate, an herbicide. It is now being planted on 55,000 hectares, according to public disclosures.

Bioceres refused to discuss Brazilian millers’ stance but said in a recent presentation that expansion of the HB4 wheat area in the 2021/2022 season reflected an expected inventory ramp-up pending regulatory approval from Brazil.

While Argentina has approved Bioceres’ HB4 GMO wheat, its sale within the country as well as exports will depend on Brazil granting import authorization.

Abitrigo’s Barbosa said the entire wheat supply chain is worried about the effects of transgenic wheat on the health of consumers.

“There is no country in the world that accepts the import of GMO wheat,” Barbosa said. “We don’t want to be the guinea pigs.”

Some 80% of Brazil’s wheat imports come Argentina, and the country could increase non-GMO wheat imports from Uruguay, Paraguay and also buy it from the United States, Canada and Russia to avoid Argentina’s GMO wheat if necessary, Barbosa said.

Since HB4’s approval in October 2020, Argentina’s main farmer associations as well as grains exchanges and storage and flour chambers have expressed their opposition to the approval of the GMO wheat.

Reporting by Ana Mano and Nayara Figueiredo in São Paulo; Additional reporting by Maximilian Heath in Buenos Aires; Editing by David Gregorio