The release of the first ever GMO wheat, HB4, has officially been blocked by a judicial order in the Province of Buenos Aires Argentina. A great victory for the largest wheat producing region of the country.
After its national approval for trade and commercialization in October 2020, a joint suit was filed by over 40 different social and environmental organizations, agroecological producers, scientists, indigenous peoples, to the provincial court.
The collective called “Un Trigo de Libertad” presented a case that brought together strong evidence of the dangers of introducing a new GMO, citing the new invention as exotic and invasive, with the potential to cause irreversible genetic contamination to local Argentine wheat varieties. The ruling judge cited the precautionary principle enshrined in the General Environmental law, stating that the release could cause irreversible and unforeseeable damage in human and environmental health, as risks of contamination are inherently hard to control.
In 2002 the province passed Law 12822 , which ordered the creation of a Commission of Biotechnology and Agricultural Biosecurity, for the specific purpose of evaluating the risk of new introductions of GMOs and other biotechnologies, stating: “In view of the vertiginous increase in the use of transgenic seeds, we believe it is necessary that there should be a provincial agency that has the function of controlling their use.” Although the commission was never created, the case cited the law for the need to evaluate the multidimensional risks of introducing the new GMO wheat. Until an environmental and biosafety assessment could take place which disproved the potential risks, the judge ruled for the blocking of commercial planting.
The new HB4 wheat, if released, thanks to open pollination, would put at risk the creole varieties of Argentine wheat adapted and improved over the last 120 years by farmers. These varieties represent a cultural and natural heritage of immeasurable value. In addition, the plaintiff collective alleges the right to agroecology, which would be openly violated with the release of transgenic wheat, given the impossibility of coexistence of the agroindustrial model with the agroecological model.
Not to mention the vastly proven detrimental effects of the GMO’s accompanying agrotoxic package, which have already caused significant environmental damage all over the country. The case also brought together expert testimony and antecedents of the risks of expanding the industrial agriculture model intrinsically linked to GMOs.
While at the national level, the Argentine federal government has the power to approve commercialization of a new biological product, under the Argentine constitution, the provinces are in charge of managing and protecting natural resources. And this includes seeds. As stated by leading lawyer of Naturaleza de Derechos, Fernando Cabaleiro, “The National Constitution, since the 1994 reform, gives the provinces control over their territories, which is precisely where these GMOs are released, and therefore we are demanding that the province submit this release of GMOs to a process of environmental impact assessment within the province.”
The hope now rests in being able to expand this provincial ban to the rest of Argentina’s regions to effectively ban the production of the new GM, with a suit already being filed for the national ban. A significant move considering headlines calling for the fast-tracking of approval as a false solution to the supposed wheat shortage caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This provincial ban and hopefully national ban would heavily dampen Bioceres goals of expanding the GMO., and its risks.
The genetically modified HB4 wheat was developed by Argentine agtech company Bioceres, who claims the new wheat is resistant to droughts, requiring less fertilizer and less pesticide use. In October 2020 it was conditionally approved for commercial sale and experimentation by the Argentine and Brazilian government. And while the new GMO wheat has only been approved for the initial stages of experimentation, Brazil has already started to test plant following the Russian invasion. Producers, civil society, and scientists have heavily protested the approval, due to a lack of transparency in the process and the high health and environmental risks.
In May 2022, Australia and New Zealand fast-tracked approval for use in the sale of food products. Now, Bioceres is pushing to be allowed planting of the new GMO wheat in Australia by 2024, starting with field trials just next year.
Navdanya International, in collaboration with Naturaleza De Derechos
Thumbnail image: Naturaleza De Derechos