Technology Argentina authorizes the world’s 1st GMO wheat, with the help of a French company

Argentina authorizes the world’s 1st GMO wheat, with the help of a French company

A wheat field (non GMO) in France, in 2007. (MYCHELE DANIAU / AFP)

There were already soybeans and transgenic corn. But no wheat. The large South American country (four times the size of France) is the first to do so, using a molecule called HB4, which has already been used for soybeans. The research lasted more than ten years, initiated by a researcher, Raquel Chan, who did her doctorate at the University of Strasbourg.

The tests, carried out on 6,000 hectares in the open field in some thirty Argentinian localities, have made it possible to establish that this genetically modified wheat is more resistant to water stress. In other words, it adapts better to drought, with a yield of 16 to 20% higher than a traditional wheat. Obviously, several certifications had to be requested, and the last one came on October 8 from the national scientific and technical council in Buenos Aires, the Conicet. Argentina therefore becomes the first country in the world to make this choice, which is already controversial.

A French company is very involved in this file. In fact Argentina has set up two joint ventures, two joint companies to carry out this project. One with the United States, and the other with the French company Florimond Desprez, which is based in the north of France, in Cappelle-en-Pévèle near Lille. This family business, little known to the general public, is nevertheless the 14th seed company in the world. It employs nearly 1,200 people and works in 65 countries. Research on the selection of new types of wheat, barley or beet is one of its specialties. In this case, it is working in partnership with the Argentinian company Bioceres.

For Argentina, the commercial stake is considerable since the country is the 6th world exporter of wheat: more than 14 million tonnes exported, to nearly 40 countries in the world. Argentina exports even more soybeans and corn, but the share of wheat continues to increase. Argentina has bet on GMOs for almost 30 years: it is already the world’s leading exporter of transgenic soybean oil and the second for transgenic maize. GMO crops occupy more than half of the country’s agricultural land.

The goal with this permission is to do the same with the wheat. And to achieve its goal, Argentina will above all have to convince its big neighbor to the north, Brazil, by far its first customer. In fact, Brazil sources its wheat almost exclusively from Argentina. The risk is that Brazilians are reluctant to switch to GMO wheat. On the one hand, political relations between the two countries are not very good; on the other hand, the idea of ​​consuming GMO wheat could set back consumers. Several Argentine scientists also sounded the alarm yesterday by stressing that this authorization of transgenic wheat, beyond even health issues, is a commercially risky bet.

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