GMO HB4 wheat conquers the world

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The GMO HB4 wheat – produced in Argentina by Bioceres Crop Solutions Corp. and already exported to Brazil, as we have seen (1) – is now going to conquer the world, thanks to the synergies between smuggling and lobbying activities. From South America to Central and South Africa, Asia and Oceania.

This leads to a scenario of uncontrolled contamination of wheat with genetically modified seeds to ‘ignore’ drought (to the detriment of reproduction) and resist glufosinate ammonium, a reproductive toxic herbicide banned in the EU since 2018. (2)

1) HB4, the GMO plants that ‘ignore’ drought

HB4 GMOs were developed in Argentina in the early 2000s – in a public-private synergy that involved the Universidad Nacional del Litoral, the Comicet (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas) and the then startup Bioceres, later listed on Wall Street (Nasdaq , BIOX) – to tackle climate change.

In nature, plants such as soybeans, sunflowers and wheat react to water shortages by accelerating their reproduction, so as to leave some grains to protect the species, but their production level is significantly affected. In other words, the plant prioritizes the survival of the species over productivity.

The mechanism of action of HB4 instead stimulates plants to ‘ignore’ drought, so that they can continue to produce normally while waiting for rain. However, if the water does not arrive, the plant dies without leaving offspring. In other words, the HB4 plant prioritizes productivity over the survival of the species.

1.1) HB4, a shower of dollars

The HB4 experiment was not considered satisfactory by researchers, since the ‘myopia’ induced in plants (made incapable of reacting to water shortages) compromises their reproduction, on which farmers around the world depend. (3)

Plant reproduction after all – in the logic of global seed monopolists – must depend on their annual sales and not on self-production. The HB4 seeds thus collected ‘a shower of dollars’ from Wall Street investors. (4)

1.2) HB4, resistance to glufosinate ammonium

The glufosinate ammonium resistance trait was introduced by Bioceres in 2019, before the big launch of HB4 wheat on the Brazilian market, to increase its competitiveness in a sector dominated by ‘herbicide resistant’ GMOs.

GMO plants resistant to herbicides – according to the ancient Monsanto school of ‘Roundup-ready’ soybeans and corn – are in fact capable of increasing the sales of agrotoxics (i.e. Roundup, glyphosate) whose profits are much higher than those of seeds. (5)

2) GMO HB4 wheat, conquering the world

The progressive conquest of the world, by the GMO HB4 wheat, follows two parallel paths which upon closer inspection converge:

– on the one hand, with a ‘curious’ exception to the ‘business practices’ of the seed industries, the patent holder ‘turns a blind eye’ (or perhaps both) to the reproduction of seeds by farmers. Who thus resell them smuggled, even in neighboring countries, without indicating the presence of GMOs,

– at the same time the emissaries of the biotech industry, with the support of the Argentine government (destined to increase, under the presidency of Javier Milei), claim the fact that GMO HB4 wheat is already in fact present in the countries where they ask for it to be authorized import and cultivation.

After Brazil – which under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro accepted both the import of HB4 wheat flour and its use in agriculture – a series of countries began to authorize its import for human and animal consumption:

  • America. Colombia, Paraguay, Bolivia;
  • Africa. Nigeria, South Africa;
  • Asia. Indonesia (one of the world’s largest wheat importers);
  • oceania. Australia, New Zealand.

3) Risk assessment

Risk assessment for human health associated with the consumption of foods (e.g. pasta, bread and baked products, breakfast cereals) that contain GMO HB4 wheat flours should be accurate, with particular attention to long-term effects. Even more so when we consider that:

– the main GMO crops (soya, corn, cotton, rapeseed) are mainly intended for the production of raw materials for feed, biofuels and textile products. Conversely, the primary destiny of wheat is human consumption, where it often has a primary role;

– glufosinate ammonium is a herbicide that is toxic for reproduction and development, as well as neurotoxic, with suspected genotoxicity. (6) To which are added acute toxicity for mammals, aquatic organisms and insects which indicates the health of soils. (7)

4) Opposition from civil society

Peasant and indigenous organizations, in South America as in South Africa, oppose government resolutions that pave the way for GMO HB4 wheat. To the risks of the glufosinate-ammonium herbicide are added those of the rapid contamination of other wheat varieties and the loss of biodiversity, as has already happened for corn.

Paraguayan bakers launched the ‘Bread Without Poisons’ campaign, in coordination with grassroots resistance organized in Argentina and Brazil. In Bolivia, a heated debate continues between civil society and the agribusiness giants. (8) Across the Atlantic, under the slogan ‘Away with GMO wheat from Africa’, other movements denounce that the importation of Argentine GMO wheat into South Africa also exposes Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia and Namibia.

Peasant agriculture – which in Latin America still has organizations worthy of representing it, unlike Europe where the ‘unions of themselves’ (i.e. Coldiretti) advance the interests of the monopolists of pesticides and seeds (9) – meanwhile continues to conserve and innovate collectively the seeds. In the Global South, it is estimated that between 70% and 90% of the crops sown each year come from farmers’ seeds. And it is their production that still provides 70% of the world’s food population.

Dario Dongo

Footnotes

(1) Dario Dongo. GMO wheat from Argentina and Brazil, soon on our tables? GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade).

(2) Reg. (EU) No 540/2011, implementing Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the list of approved active substances. Consolidated text (1.9.23) http://tinyurl.com/37k6rfp2

(3) Diego Silva. (2021). Keep Calm and Carry On: Climate-ready Crops and the Genetic Codification of Climate Myopia. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 46(5), 1048-1075. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243920974092

(4) Lysander Arelovich. Trigo HB4: realities, myths and relations regarding transgenic cultivars. Taller Ecologist (AR). 18.5.22 http://tinyurl.com/y7cxnnpa

(5) See Dario Dongo’s ebook, ‘GMOs, the big scam‘ (Ed. GIFT, Rome, 2015. Ita/En)

(6) Gallardo-Valle et al. (2023). Evaluation of the cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of glufosinate-ammonium at technical and commercial grades in HepG2 cells. J Environ Sci Health B. 2023;58(8):577-582. doi: 10.1080/03601234.2023.2241322

(7) Wang, B., Jiang, L., Pan, B. et al. Toxicity of glufosinate-ammonium in soil to earthworm (Eisenia fetida). J Soils Sediments 22, 1469–1478 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11368-022-03146-7

(8) The interim president of Bolivia Jeanine Áñez Chávez (lawyer, politician and television presenter), in 2019, had given the green light to GMO crops with measures later canceled by the new president Luis Arce. But now, according to Fundación Solón, almost all the soya grown in Bolivia is GMO glyphosate tolerant

(9) See notes 5,6 to the previous article ‘Coldiretti to conquer the organic sector. #Clean spades‘. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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