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New GMO Alert: How Long Before Amber Waves of (GMO) Grain Flood the Market?

Wheat is one of the top three most significant staple foods in the world. According to US Wheat Associates, global wheat consumption is projected […]

New GMO Alert: How Long Before Amber Waves of (GMO) Grain Flood the Market?

Wheat is one of the top three most significant staple foods in the world. According to US Wheat Associates, global wheat consumption is projected […]
Wheat crop graphic

Wheat is one of the top three most significant staple foods in the world. According to US Wheat Associates, global wheat consumption is projected to total 802.4 million metric tons, up 2.03 MMT from last year; and global wheat production in 2024/25 is projected to top 798 MMT, up from 10.5 MMT from last year.

More than 80 countries cultivate wheat, with China, India, Russia, and the US being the top producers. According to the USDA, the US, EU, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan account for 90% of wheat exports worldwide.

The development of genetically modified wheat has historically been controversial. As noted in our July 2022 New GMO Alert, in the 1990s, Monsanto began conducting field trials of genetically modified wheat in the US. However, the company voluntarily withdrew its cultivation request based on the concerns of wheat farmers regarding the risk of potential contamination and its impact on US wheat exports. 

Those concerns were not unfounded, as demonstrated in subsequent years by at least five reports of genetically modified wheat contamination in the US and Canada, which resulted in wheat export disruptions in the form of suspensions and/or increased inspection on the part of trading partners. Those concerns are still relevant, as evidenced by the fact that the USDA has yet to approve the genetically modified HB4 wheat for cultivation. 

Because of wheat’s significance and ubiquity, as well as its role in the global marketplace, we monitor genetically modified wheat development, production, and acceptance very closely. Recently, we have seen some significant shifts. Below are some updates on the development and cultivation of genetically modified wheat worldwide.

Argentina: Bioceres Crop Solutions (HB4 Wheat)

In July 2022, we updated you on the progress of Bioceres Crop Solutions’s (Bioceres’s) genetically modified HB4 wheat. We have continued to monitor HB4 wheat through its expanded cultivation in Argentina, as well as Bioceres’s efforts to get the wheat approved for both import and cultivation in various countries around the world.

To date, HB4 wheat has been approved for commercial cultivation in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, as well as for use in food or animal feed in Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Nigeria, the US, and South Africa. Indonesia has approved HB4 wheat for human consumption

Recently, Bioceres announced that it had begun the sale of genetically modified wheat seed in Argentina. The seeds are being provided to agricultural retail companies. Bioceres expressed hope that it would be able to provide seed to Brazil in one or two growing seasons.The company further revealed that there are four varieties of HB4 wheat: Bermejo, Paranά, Traful and Iruya.

China: Qi Biodesign

China is both the largest producer and consumer of wheat in the world. In May, the Chinese government announced that it had approved its first genetically modified wheat. The wheat was developed by the biotechnology company Qi Biodesign in collaboration with scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and modified to resist a common fungal infection (i.e., powdery mildew). The wheat received safety approval for 5 years after being fast-tracked through the approval process.The Chinese government is also expected to develop and pass new labeling requirements for genetically modified crops used in food. 

Australia: Trigall Australia

In March of this year, Trigall Australia (Trigall) submitted a license application to conduct HB4 field trials in Australia. According to the application, the proposed trial would be limited to a maximum of 20 hectares per year over the course of 5 years across 10 sites in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia.

Trigall Australia is a joint venture between Trigall Genetics and S&W Seed Company, which was formed to merge and augment their individual work in wheat. Trigall Genetics is co-owned by Bioceres Crop Solutions and the French wheat breeder Florimond Desprez. 

Australia: University of Adelaide

In April, the Australian government, under the auspices of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), issued a license to University of Adelaide to conduct field trials of wheat and barley that have been genetically modified for yield enhancement. The crops can be grown at a single site with a maximum of 2 hectares per year beginning in May 2024 and extending through January 2029. The trial site is in South Australia. The application was submitted in September 2023, and the public comment period ended in March. 

Australia: InterGrain and Inari Agriculture

In May, it was announced that the Australian seed breeder InterGrain was laying the groundwork to conduct major genetically modified wheat trials in Australia in 2025. The trials could potentially involve “hundreds of new genetic variations.” The seeds were provided to InterGrain earlier in the year by the US developer Inari Agriculture (Inari), which uses AI and CRISPR as part of its SEEDesign platform to genetically engineer wheat with the goal of increasing yield by 10%. 

The seeds have been planted in testing greenhouses in southeast Queensland, where the wheat is currently being cultivated to multiply the seed. Ultimately, the goal is to produce enough seed to plant the genetically modified wheat at more than 45 trials sites across the country. 

InterGrain is majority owned by the Western Australia State Government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). The collaboration between InterGrain and Inari was initiated in 2022.

United Kingdom: John Innes Centre 

The John Innes Centre (JIC) has developed a genetically modified high-iron wheat that contains 20 mg/kg of iron in milled white flour. The work was undertaken several years ago to address the legal requirement in the UK that all flour and bread be fortified with iron (6.5 mg/kg) of iron, usually achieved through the addition of iron powder or iron salts. Although wheat is inherently high in iron, most is lost during the milling process when the germ and bran are removed. 

In 2021, JIC submitted an application to the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for field trials to be carried out between March and August of each year from 2022 to 2024. Ultimately, JIC’s goal is to eliminate the need to iron-fortify bread in the UK as well as to create hybrid versions for cultivation in other countries where wheat is a staple, such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Non-GMO Project’s Standard defines all crops and products developed using biotechnology, including new gene-editing techniques, as GMOs. We share this information to further one of the Project’s primary goals of creating greater transparency in the supply chain, ensuring you have the information you need to make the best choices for you, your brand, and your family. 

Please note that the information herein is for general informational purposes only and is based on the linked sources above.

The Non-GMO Project is a 510c3 nonprofit dedicated to protecting and promoting non-GMO alternatives. New GMO Alerts is supported by funding from readers like you. Donate today

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