Status: 06/30/2022 1:06 p.m
Hardly any rainfall, dry soil, withered harvests – Argentina’s agriculture has repeatedly suffered from droughts in recent years. With the help of genetic engineering, plants could become more resistant.
HB4 is the name of the technology developed by biochemist Raquel Chan together with Conicet, Argentina’s state science agency, and the genetic engineering company Bioceres.
ARD Studio Rio de Janeiro
“We genetically modified wheat to make it more drought-resistant. We inserted a sunflower gene into the wheat genome.” This makes the plant much more adaptable to drought, which allows higher yields even in regions where there is less rainfall, explains Chan.
GM wheat as a solution
For the Argentinian developers, GM wheat is an answer to the food crisis. Their goal: to obtain import approval for the GM wheat in as many countries as possible, says Claudio Duran, Strategy Director of Bioceres.
“We must use science to ensure global food security. There are more than 800 million people on Earth who do not have enough to eat.” Many more would eat poorly, Duran said.
7th largest wheat exporter
Argentina is the seventh largest exporter in the world, averaging 14 tons of wheat per year. In May, the government approved the cultivation and trading of HB4 wheat – but that caused an outcry. Not only with small family businesses and organic farmers, but above all with the large producers and exporters of conventional wheat.
It is not the genetic manipulation that worries them, but possible penalties for previous customers – for fear of contamination of conventional wheat by the genetic variety. Gustavo Idígoras, President of the Argentine Grain Export Center, said a few weeks ago: “We say explicitly and emphatically that we will not accept a single grain of HB4 wheat in shipments because it will meet with absolute rejection from the market.”
Many countries allow import
But the resistance is crumbling. The new GM wheat will initially only be planted by 250 licensed farms. But Brazil, the most important buyer of Argentinian wheat, has now approved the import and use of flour from HB4 wheat, Colombia, Australia and New Zealand have followed suit and now the USA too. A corresponding application for approval has also been submitted to the EU.
“Argentina is once again becoming a test laboratory,” says Cecilia Gargano, who also conducts research at the Conicet Institute: on the consequences of Argentina’s agriculture on the environment and residents in the cultivation areas. “The approval of GM soy almost 30 years ago established an agricultural model in Argentina that is based on monocultures and massive use of pesticides,” says Gargano. This has led to groundwater pollution, more deforestation, damage to health, displacement of the rural population and thus to more poverty.
Bioceres, for example, advertises drought resistance worldwide, but likes to conceal the fact that resistance to the herbicide glufosinate-ammonium has also been built into HB4 wheat – this is considered more toxic than the controversial weed killer glyphosate.