Argentina’s GMO Wheat Approved in Indonesia for Human Consumption
Argentinian biotech firm Bioceres Crop Solution Corp. said on Thursday that its genetically modified (GMO) wheat called HB4, designed to withstand drought, had been approved for human consumption in Indonesia.
Indonesia, the largest importer of wheat globally, is expected to import about 11 million tons during the 2022/2023 harvesting season, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Bioceres said that Indonesia authorized the use of HB4 wheat for consumption, expanding its use beyond animal feed. The decision came after Brazil’s government approved the cultivation and commercialization of H4 wheat on March 3.
Brazil is the second country after Argentina to approve HB4 wheat for cultivation. Other countries, including the United States, Colombia, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and Nigeria, have also approved it.
The HB4 drought-tolerance technology has been shown to increase wheat yields by 40 percent in environments under severe water stress, based on results from drought-affected crops in Argentina, according to a company statement on March 3.
Researchers from the INDEAR Rosario Agrobiotechnology Institute in Argentina have conducted research on HB4 wheat and found that it is “compositionally equivalent to non-transgenic wheat.”
“The HaHB4 (Helianthus annuus homeobox 4) gene from sunflower encodes for a transcription factor involved in tolerance to environmental stress,” they stated in a report published on Jan. 17, 2019.
US FDA Approves HB4 Wheat
While corn and soy crops used predominantly to feed livestock are commonly planted with GMO seeds, consumers have long opposed GMO wheat for human consumption.
Bioceres says sentiment toward GMPO wheat is changing with food prices soaring owing to the Russia–Ukraine war, as genetically modified crops can survive drought and pests, reducing the risk of famine.
In June last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that it has “no further questions regarding the safety of HB4 wheat” and that “it does not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval by FDA.”
Bioceres said the voluntary consultation program is a “key step towards commercial establishment in the United States” and that it is awaiting approval from the USDA.
The FDA oversees the safety of food from new GMO crops before they enter the market, while the USDA reviews the impact on agriculture and the environment.
Greg Jaffe, biotechnology project director for the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the FDA’s consultation process can give comfort to food companies that may one day use the wheat, though the FDA relies on the company’s position that it is safe.
“It’s better than nothing,” Jaffe told Reuters.
The United States is the fifth largest wheat producer, with an average of 15 million hectares planted every year, and the third largest exporter, “holding a key position in the global wheat trade,” Bioceres stated.
Reuters contributed to this report.