Brazil has cleared imports of flour made with genetically modified (GM) wheat grown in Argentina, which has been engineered to better withstand drought.
The Brazilian government has given the green light for the sale of flour produced from the drought-tolerant transgenic wheat, HB4, developed by Argentine biotechnology firm Bioceres.
In doing so, it has become the first country to approve the import of flour made from GM wheat.
Brazilian biosecurity agency, the Brazilian National Biosafety Commission (CTNBio) said the approval only applies to imports of flour produced from HB4 wheat.
“This approval is a major step toward building climate-resilient agriculture systems that use wheat as a key component for crop rotation,” Bioceres said in a statement.
“Wheat is a key staple for billions of people around the globe, and a crop that has remained orphan in the sphere of biotechnology, despite being planted in 200 million hectares globally.”
Bioceres said this “significant milestone” could not have been achieved without the continued support of French company Florimond Desprez, the co-developer of HB4 wheat, and Tropical Melhoramento and Genética, a Brazilian partner who filed the request with CTNBio.
Argentina is the largest wheat-producing country in South America, and Brazil is the primary importer of its flour.
Bioceres says some 55,000ha of HB4 wheat is currently being grown in Argentina and, following regulatory approval, the company may now seek to expand production of the crop for the next planting season.
HB4 has been engineered to have drought resistance and tolerance to the common herbicide glufosinate-ammonium.
However, environmentalists and anti-GM campaigners continue to raise concerns about the safety of GM wheat, also claiming a lack of consumer appetite for the technology.
Brazilian flour milling association Abitrigo had threatened to stop buying wheat from Argentina, if its government-approved GM wheat imports from the country.
Rubens Barbosa, Abitrigo executive president, is asking Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture to reconsider its decision and block entry of GM wheat into the country.
In the UK, Rothamsted Research was granted permission by Defra in September to run a series of field trials of GM wheat, engineered with a reduced cancer-causing compound commonly found in toast.