Argentine grains exporters have asked the government to identify farmers who are growing drought-resistant genetically modified (GM) wheat, so they can halt sales from those areas until top importer Brazil approves the technology.
Exporters say if any GM wheat is shipped from Argentina, all international sales of the grain may be shunned due to concern about possible cross-contamination from GM to non-GM cargos, given some consumers' aversion to bread made with GM flour.
Argentine biotech firm Bioceres said in September that 55,000 hectares of its GM drought-resistant HB4 wheat had been planted by farmers in Argentina in what it called 'an inventory ramp-up' ahead of 'expected pending regulatory approval from Brazil'.
It said the GM wheat was being grown by 225 farmers, concentrated in the bread-basket province of Buenos Aires. A company spokesperson reached by Reuters on Monday declined further comment.
The CIARA-CEC chamber of grains export companies operating in Argentina said the information provided was not detailed enough. Its head Gustavo Idigoras said the chamber had asked the National Seed Institute, a government body, last month to help pinpoint farms that are growing GM wheat.
Identifying 'Risk Areas'
"If we can identify risk areas... we will avoid purchasing there. We will also test wheat coming into port terminals. Any detection of GM wheat will result in it being rejected," Idigoras said.
"We are not against biotechnology. We are very positive about biotechnology for corn and soybeans. But we need to be very careful until the market approves it for wheat," he added.
Maintaining exports is crucial for Argentina as tightening global wheat supplies and robust demand pushed benchmark Chicago Board of Trade wheat futures to the highest level in nearly nine years this month.
Brazil imports 60% of the wheat it consumes, with 80% of those imports coming from Argentina.
Its biosecurity agency CTNBio could decide whether to approve a request to allow imports of Argentina's GM wheat at a meeting it has scheduled for Thursday.
It is a contentious issue, with Brazilian flour millers threatening to stop buying from Argentina if CTNBio grants permission for the imports.
If and when Brazil approves shipments of wheat produced by Bioceres, it would also be allowed to be sold domestically, the Argentine government says.
Argentine farmers, whose 2021/22 wheat crops have benefited from better than expected rain so far this season, are watching the story carefully. With concern mounting about global warming, drought-resistant wheat promises to bolster crop yields.
Separate Supply Chain
"If Brazil accepts GM wheat, it would require a separate supply chain. But it would be very difficult to have two chains with no cross-contamination," said David Hughes, a grower in Buenos Aires.
He has 900 hectares of wheat on his farm that he plans to harvest in December.
"It would be a big plus going forward to have technology in our wheat that makes it more resistant to drought. The question is whether on not there will be a market for it," Hughes said.
"That will depend on whether consumers insist on buying foods made with wheat that is free of genetic technology."