Brazil is testing a variety of genetically modified wheat, with greater tolerance to lack of water, in an attempt to increase domestic production of the cereal at a time of reduced global supply.
The decision is the latest sign of growing international interest in more drought-tolerant wheat, as more extreme conditions linked to climate change increase the risk of famine around the world.
An official from state crop research agency Embrapa told GLM on Friday that it has teamed up with Argentine company Bioceres, which has already developed a GM wheat variety that can tolerate dry conditions.
The production of the country’s other two main crops, soybeans and corn, is predominantly done with GM seeds, but consumers in the past have opposed the use of this technology in wheat as it is consumed directly by humans, instead of being used as animal feed.
Australia and New Zealand last month approved the sale and use of food containing HB4 wheat from Bioceres.
Testing of the crop by Brazil has not been previously reported. Bioceres declined to comment.
Embrapa received approval from the Brazilian biosafety agency CTN Bio in March, the month in which wheat began to be planted in experimental fields near Brasilia, in the Cerrado region -located in the center-west of the country-, where wheat is normally planted. soybeans and corn, Jorge Lemainski, head of wheat research at Embrapa, told GLM.
Lemainski said the agency will report in August how the GM wheat under observation grew in the Cerrado region.
Experimental planting began immediately after the invasion of Ukraine, a key world grain exporter, sent wheat prices soaring to near-record levels.
Brazil is a key world exporter of soybeans, but a net importer of wheat. About 90% of the wheat produced in Brazil grows in the south of the country, where conditions are wetter. Planting wheat in the north could make the volume of cereal produced in the country grow strongly.
A recent survey showed that more than 70% of consumers in Brazil said they would consume genetically modified wheat, a sign that resistance to GM crops is declining.
The government of President Jair Bolsonaro, an ally of the country’s powerful agricultural sector, would like to reduce Brazil’s dependence on Argentine wheat imports and increase its own exports of the product.
Any kind of commercial planting of GM wheat is about four years away, pending results from pilot plantings and regulatory approvals, Lemainski said.
“One thing is to investigate and another thing is to do extensive agriculture,” he said.
Previous attempts to develop GM wheat have been problematic.
The Monsanto company suspended plans to develop the product in the United States in 2004 due to uncertainty regarding a rejection of the cereal by importers and fears that the test plants would end up contaminating the food chain.
Japan stopped buying wheat from Canada in 2018 after grain containing a trace GMO was discovered in the province of Alberta.