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5 Mar, 2023 03:45

Brazil greenlights GMO wheat

Argentina’s Bioceres has claimed Brasilia has approved its HB4 wheat strain for cultivation
Brazil greenlights GMO wheat

Brazil's National Biosafety Commission has approved the cultivation, production and marketing of HB4 wheat, a drought-resistant genetically modified strain manufactured by Argentinian agribusiness firm Bioceres, the company and industry groups announced this week.

In a statement on Friday, Bioceres praised Brazil's CTNBio for “opening the Brazilian market to the technology.” The strain allegedly improves yields by 43% in so-called targeted environments. 

While several countries already accept imports of the drought-resistant wheat, Brazil is only the second to allow the modified strain’s cultivation. Concerns about potential long-term issues with a crop that is the staple food for so much of the world have led most nations to hold off on tweaking its genetic code. Back in 2021, Brazil approved imports of flour made with GMO wheat, becoming the only country to do so at the time. 

Despite skepticism toward the crop, industry players appear to be warming to the concept of GMOs, based on public opinion. While Abimapi, a trade association representing bakers, pasta makers, and other grain-product manufacturers in Brazil, initially opposed GMO wheat, it flip-flopped recently after commissioning a public opinion poll in which 70% of Brazilians said they would not mind consuming food containing genetically modified wheat.

Brazil's flour millers' industry group, Abitrigo, said that the approval brought “peace of mind to different market actors” but the “final word will rest with consumers.”

There is no indication that Brazil plans to immediately start growing GMO wheat, which has yet to pass many regulatory hurdles, but the company hopes interest in the GMO product will increase markedly following Brasilia’s vote of confidence. A relatively small player globally, Brazil and its neighbor Argentina produce the lion’s share of South American wheat, and despite a drought are projected to reap over 20 million tonnes this season.