Genetically Modified Wheat Gets a Boost With Brazil Approval

Brazil approved the sale of a drought-tolerant wheat strain developed by Bioceres Crop Solutions Corp., a key step in widening the acceptance of genetically modified crops.

Ripe wheat waits to be harvested.
By Jonathan Gilbert, Daniel Carvalho and James Attwood
November 11, 2021 | 03:20 PM

Brazil approved the sale of a drought-tolerant wheat strain developed by Bioceres Crop Solutions Corp., a key step in widening the acceptance of genetically modified crops.

The nation’s biosafety commission, known as CTNBio, cleared the commercial release of flour made from a strain of wheat known as IND-00412 in a unanimous vote Thursday morning. The decision furthers the Argentine company’s quest to convince the world of its safety. Its shares surged as much as 10%, while wheat futures in Chicago jumped 3.6%.

“There’s a lot of room for us to now scale up, particularly in regions that are drought prone and where the technology can deliver incremental yields and help mitigate climate change effects,” Chief Executive Officer Federico Trucco said in a telephone interview.

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The approval by Brazil, the biggest buyer of Argentine wheat and itself an agricultural powerhouse, is the most critical milestone for genetically modified wheat to date. Before Thursday’s decision, only Argentina had approved Bioceres’s seeds for what it calls HB4 wheat.

While the vast majority of the world’s soy and corn crops are already GMOs, they’re largely fed to livestock. Modified wheat, meanwhile, has proven more controversial and difficult to gain acceptance of because it would be directly eaten by humans in bread and pasta.

Abitrigo, a group representing Brazilian mills, said it will request that the federal government convene a biosafety committee to assess the market implications of the approval.

The Brazilian approval comes as world leaders meet to recommit to emissions goals at time when climate change is disrupting harvests, and a surge in food prices is forcing more people to go hungry. Wheat futures are up about 30% this year.

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Bioceres will now work on scaling its relationships with Argentine grain processors to start exporting flour to Brazil. The company still requires approvals for unprocessed grain and seed sales in Brazil.

Beyond Latin America, Bioceres sees potential in selling seeds to farmers in drought-prone areas of the U.S. as well as wheat-growing heavyweight Australia, Trucco said.