From Moms Across America
While commodity crops like corn and soybeans are now typically grown using genetically engineered (also called bio-engineered) seeds, the wheat industry in the US has so far been cautious about introducing genetically modified wheat to the market. That is since Monsanto abandoned plans to do exactly that, back in 2004 due to concerns raised by American farmers about the ability of the US to export GM wheat abroad. Despite USDA claims that bio-engineered wheat is safe, consumers have reservations (“Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Wheat Scandal Is No Surprise, by Paul Klein, Forbes magazine”). While genetically modified corn and soybeans are primarily grown as animal feed or for use in processed foods, wheat is a crop grown to be consumed directly. That makes it a harder sell (“Explainer: Biotech corn and soy widely used, consumers still wary of GM wheat,” Reuters, March 3, 2023, Julie Ingwersen).
That’s not stopping Argentina and Brazil, responsible for 90% of the wheat grown in South America, from moving forward with plans to cultivate genetically modified wheat. Argentina, which grows wheat for consumption and export has been plagued by variable rainfall which affects its wheat yields. In response, an Argentinian Biotechnology company, Bioceres, engineered a drought-resistant wheat, called HB4, using a gene from a sunflower. It was approved for use in Argentina in 2020. Trials are ongoing but appear to be yielding a larger harvest than wheat grown without the gene. Bioceres announced on March 3, 2023 that CTNBio, the National Biosafety Commission of Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation, has given full approval for the commercialization and cultivation of HB4 wheat in Brazil.
Proponents of biotechnology, also known as genetic engineering or genetically modified organisms, note that reduced yields due to drought require the cultivation of more and more land in order to produce more food, leading to deforestation. HB4 wheat addresses this problem by maintaining the yields during a drought without resorting to cultivating larger swaths of land for agriculture. (“Brazil says farmers can grow and market GMO wheat,” The Fern Ag Insider, March 5, 2023).