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Argentina gives green light to first GMO wheat

The final stage for the commercialization of genetically modified wheat has just been taken. Argentina authorized the marketing of wheat in May HB4. This variety is sold by a joint venture between the Argentinian company Bioceres and the French seed company Florimond Desprez.

A major wheat exporter, Argentina had authorized the cultivation of this GMO from 2020. But not for sale. Buenos Aires was waiting for major importing countries to authorize its marketing before giving the green light to Argentine producers, for fear of seeing markets close. Thing done since Brazil allowed wheat HB4 in food in November 2021.

This regulation entails a huge business risk »

But the game is not over. As the specialized association InfOGM reports, Argentina exports almost half of its wheat production, but only four countries have so far authorized the import of wheat flour. HB4 : Brazil, Colombia, Australia and New Zealand, knowing that the last two do not consume Argentine wheat. The fear that this GMO closes export markets to Argentine cereal producers — in particular because of the risk of contamination with non-GMO – stay strong. This regulation entails a huge commercial risk since not all the countries that buy from us accept the HB4 »thus stated in a tweet organization of grain exporters of Argentina, the day after the authorization.

Wheat GMO encounters strong opposition in the world, greater than that against other genetically modified crops such as corn and soy, which are already widely marketed. This distinction in treatment is explained by the fact that corn and soya are used above all for animal feed, while wheat is mainly intended for human consumption.

Read also: The Ministry of Agriculture at the forefront of lobbying new GMO »

Besides another wheat GMOthe MON71800, glyphosate-tolerant and developed by Monsanto, has been suspended for more than fifteen years from an authorization that never came. Authorized for consumption since 2004 in four countries (Australia, Colombia, New Zealand and the United States), this first transgenic wheat has never received authorization for cultivation, recalls InfOGM.

Herbicide tolerant

What are the characteristics conferred by genetic engineering on wheat HB4 ? Like many GMO, this variety is herbicide resistant. the HB4 tolerates glufosinate, a product marketed by Bioceres in Argentina, but banned in Europe since 2018. As early as 2017, the National Agency for Health and Food Safety (Anses), in France, banned a herbicide compound with this substance classified as presumed reprotoxic (R1B), on behalf of human health risks ». However, Europe does not prohibit the import of cereals treated with this herbicide if they respect the regulatory thresholds.

But the main argument put forward in favor of this variety GMO is its resistance to drought, thanks to the introduction of a sunflower gene named Hahb-4. Wheat HB4 would thus pave the way for a new generation ofGMO aimed at adapting agriculture to climate change. According to a study published in 2020 by the researchers behind this variety, experimental trials of cultivation of HB4 in several water stress situations show an average increase of 16 % returnsGMO compared to a conventional wheat variety.

Asked by Reporterre, the communication service of the National Institute of Agronomic Research (Inrae) was unable to certify the effectiveness of this variety, the agronomic results being different between the experimental trials and the cultivation by cereal growers. . In an interview in June 2021, however, geneticist Randall Wisser explained to us why the gene that could respond to drought did not exist, since there is not only one gene involved in tolerance to water deficit and the expression of genes also changes with the change of environment. The geneticist reminds us today that wheat has a much larger genome than rice or maize, which makes it more difficult to understand the genetic mechanisms involved in drought resistance.

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