A wheat variety genetically modified to be drought resistant has been approved by the country of Argentina, making them the first country in the world to approve GMO wheat.
Frayne Olson, crop economist and marketing specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension and director of the Quentin Burdick Center for Cooperatives, says it is simply too early in the approval process to see how the new variety — HB4 — will affect international, national and regional wheat markets. Ultimately, that's due to there not being any approval from importing countries thus far.
“Argentina is one of the U.S’s largest wheat competitors in the global wheat market. As of today, there is no importing country that has approved the GMO wheat. Period. Let alone the HB4 varieties,” Olson said.
Due to Brazil’s location, the country imports an abundance of wheat from Argentina. Brazil is currently in the act of reviewing the variety, and Olson predicts the country will come to a conclusion in six to eight months on whether they will allow the importation of the GMO product.
However, getting the importing country’s approval is only half the battle HB4 wheat is facing. Garnering consumer acceptance of this new wheat variety could be very hard.
“There's a lot of skepticism still. Will the country actually allow the importation of the wheat, do they believe it's safe? Then what about consumer acceptance? As you talk to wheat buyers, the concern is not about the science part of it, but it has been about consumer acceptance and whether or not the consumers will look at wheat products or bread that has actually been made by GMO wheat and whether they will actually purchase it or not. That has been one of the main concerns,” Olson said.
Olson also notes the Brazil baking industry is worried about cross contamination when using the HB4 wheat variety and non-GMO wheat to make their products. He also fears U.S. consumers would not take to the wheat variety.
“I think there would be a consumer pushback towards the variety in the U.S.,” Olson said.
However, the new variety could become very useful to producers, especially those who live in drought-prone areas.
“I don't see anything happening in North Dakota or Montana very soon, but if the variety were to be adopted, I think the winter wheat region would be the first to consider it. The main benefit is it's drought-tolerant wheat. That has some real appeal, not just in the U.S. but also globally. This is an example of a year where drought-tolerant varieties would have some yield advantages. From a farmer’s perspective, there are some valuable traits. But again, it's a matter of, ‘Yeah, I can produce it, but is there anyone willing to buy it?’” Olson said.