By Maximilian Heath and Ana Mano
BUENOS AIRES/SAO PAULO (Reuters) -Brazil has approved the cultivation and sale of drought-tolerant genetically modified wheat, a major boost for the once taboo crop as global food supply fears and regional dry weather burnishes the lure of GMO.
The approval, which biosecurity agency CTNbio posted, makes Brazil the second nation after Argentina to approve Bioceres’ HB4 wheat strain for cultivation. Other markets have approved it for consumption.
Brazil is one of the world’s largest consumer markets and food exporters. While the green-light does not mean Brazil will necessarily grow GMO wheat for production soon, it reflects a major shift in attitudes as climate change and the war in Ukraine sharpen worries over a global food crisis.
GMO wheat has never been grown for commercial purposes due to consumer fears about allergens or toxicities in the staple crop used worldwide for bread, pasta and pastries. Biotech varieties of corn and soy, used for animal feed, biofuels and ingredients like cooking oil, are commonplace.
Bioceres said in a statement on Friday the approval meant “opening the Brazilian market to the technology,” adding it would help ease commercialization of the strain in Argentina. The two countries dominate South America’s wheat production.
Plant genetics company Tropical Melhoramento e Genetica, a partner in Brazil of Argentina’s Bioceres, made the approval request.
Abimapi, an association representing biscuit, pasta, bread and cake makers in Brazil, said the approval could potentially increase internal supplies, which could reduce industry costs.
The association was against adopting GMO wheat previously, but changed its stance after a survey it commissioned showed more than 70% of Brazilians would not mind consuming products containing it.
Brazil has been growing domestic wheat using conventional plants adapted to local climate conditions, but still relies on supplier Argentina for sizeable imports.
Brazil plants about 3 million hectares (741,316 acres) with wheat, mostly in southern states like Rio Grande do Sul and Parana.
Drought-tolerant wheat may appeal to farmers in that region, where crops such as corn and soy have faced water stress. In Argentina, drought since last year cut the wheat crop in half.
Bioceres has said its GMO wheat “showed higher yields than conventional varieties across all environments, with an average 43% yield improvement in targeted environments.”
In November 2021, Brazil became the first country in the world to allow imports of flour made with GM wheat.
Abitrigo, Brazil’s flour millers industry group, also hailed the decision, saying it solves “the risk of regulatory conflicts” because approval of flour imports was granted before use of Bioceres’ HB4 wheat was effectively cleared in the country.
“The approval for planting, imports and commercialization of GMO wheat resolves this issue, bringing peace of mind to different market actors,” Abitrigo said in a statement. “The final word will rest with consumers.”
(Reporting by Maximilian Heath in Buenos Aires and Ana Mano in São Paulo; Editing by Steven Grattan, Adam Jourdan and Jan Harvey)
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