The unexpected battle over drought-resistant GM wheat

The unexpected battle over drought-resistant GM wheat

Cereal is presented as the most profitable crop, adding second-rate soy.

© Provided by Clarín
The cereal is presented as the most profitable crop, adding second-rate soybeans.

Withholdings, exchange rate gap, restrictions with the dollar … As if the issues that arouse were not few controversy in the agricultural sector, this week a new focus of discussion emerged. The novelty is that this time the dispute is not directly against the Government, but against a biotechnological development that positions our country in the leadership of science, particularly in relation to rural activity, which for several years has been most (or least, depending on how you look at it) competitive of the Argentine economy.

The debate was triggered by the approval by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Nation -in the Resolution 41/2020 published this Friday in the Official Gazette– from HB4 wheat, a variety resistant to drought and salinity.

The approval announcement was led by Minister of Science and Technology, Roberto Salvarezza, with the outstanding participation of Raquel Chan, a researcher at Conicet and the Universidad del Litoral, which has been responsible for the scientific discovery.

It is worth noting that Lino Barañao, the minister who dodged the crack and remained as the main official of Science, technology and Productive Innovation for 12 years (Kirchnerism designated it and Macrism supported it), he considered, in consultation with Clarion that “it is one of the most important developments that have been made in Argentina.” And he added: “Support for biotechnology by the Government is essential when it comes to taking evidence-based decisions. Because the rejection of genetically modified organisms (GMO) by a sector of the population has to do with a position bordering on superstition rather than rationality that should prevail in the times that touch us ”.

The world wheat market reaches 175 million tons per year, Y Argentina exports approximately a little more than half of the 20 million tons of current national production. Destinations today exceed 50 countries. In 2019, our country exported 11.3 million tons of wheat, for 2.5 billion dollars.

Opposition and defense

The crux of the aforementioned discussion is the fear that Argentine wheat buyers will reject this transgenic variety and that when faced with a eventual mixing with conventional versions of the cereal, there is a economic damage to the entire wheat chain.

Attentive to that concern, the Government left the final approval of HB4 conditional on an endorsement from Brazil, the historical great importer of Argentine wheat. However, the group that warns of commercial risks asks that other countries be consulted.

The voices of dissent They emerged first from the Winter Cereals Committee of the National Seed Institute (INASE) and then from a group of cereal exchanges, millers, exporters and even the Liaison Board.

One axis of the questions is that “wheat cannot be segregated”. That is, it is believed that it is impossible to “distinguish by variety and quality.” Strictly speaking, this cereal has so many utilities, from bread, to sweet breads and pastaAlthough it is not a formalized practice in Argentina, it is being typified throughout the world in the commercial chain.

Faced with these doubts, Bioceres has designed the program Generation HB4, a collaborative production system under regenerative agriculture practices and end-to-end traceability, which will be the only way to produce it until achieving a high level of acceptance from the participants of the commercial chain and consumers.

In this way, Bioceres admits that the risk of mixtures exists but it is possible to minimize it with the Generación HB4 program, which consists of a platform of satellite monitoring of all the lots in production, a registration system of productive activities, hyperlocalized meteorology data, and information on yield hectare by hectare. This information is automatically integrated into incorruptible records that are associated with each batch of grain or seed; harvested, stored, transported and processed with dedicated units exclusively.

The weighting of the transgenic also crosses the debate. Those who prefer caution say that consumers pay more for non-GMO products and that the risk of mixing would be avoided with traceability and parallel marketing channels. On the other side, they argue that the acceptance of GMOs will grow due to their contribution to the environment and health. The hamburger Impossible Foods is sold in a fast food chain explicitly labeled GMO. So stand out that it saves water, land and CO2, with a lower environmental footprint.

However, as wheat is an autogenous crop like soybeans –the commercial grain serves as seed- Bioceres would not commercialize HB4 until a new Seed Law provides for the recovery of technological investment. Until that happens, develop products derived from HB4 wheat, reaching consumers who value sustainability to produce with water and land savings, from producers who follow a strict protocol.

See also: Wheat HB4: they highlight the “scientific invention” but warn of an “extraordinary economic risk”

See also: Wheat HB4: foreign farmers celebrated the Argentine approval


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