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UPDATE 2-Brazil approves cultivation of GMO wheat

(Adds Brazil's wheat production data and details from Bioceres' statement)

By Maximilian Heath and Ana Mano

SAO PAULO, March 3 (Reuters) - Brazil has become the second country in the world after Argentina to approve the cultivation of genetically modified wheat, following a decision by the nation's biosecurity agency CTNbio.

The approval request was made by plant genetics company Tropical Melhoramento e Genetica, a partner in Brazil of Argentina's Bioceres, which has developed a variety of water-stress resistant GMO wheat known as HB4.

In a statement, Bioceres confirmed Brazil had concluded a safety evaluation of HB4, providing full approval for its commercialization and cultivation in the country.

Brazil has been growing domestic wheat using conventional plants adapted to local climate conditions, but still relies on supplier Argentina for sizeable imports.

Brazil plants about 3 million hectares (741,316 acres) with wheat, mostly in southern states like Rio Grande do Sul and Parana.

Sowing drought-resistant wheat may be appealing to farmers in that region, where crops such as corn and soybeans have recently faced water stress.

Under severe drought conditions, Bioceres has said its GMO wheat "showed higher yields than conventional varieties across all environments, with an average 43% yield improvement in targeted environments".

In November 2021, Brazil became the first country in the world to allow imports of flour made with GM wheat.

That decision spurred a global discussion about GM wheat, as prices rose and concerns grew that more severe weather could threaten food security.

GM soybeans and corn have long been accepted on global markets, but are primarily fed to livestock rather than humans.

According to Bioceres, its HB4 wheat is also approved for food and feed use in the United States, Colombia, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Nigeria, and for feed use in Indonesia.

This year, Brazil is expected to harvest 10.5 million tonnes of the cereal, according to the government's food supply and statistics agency Conab, which pegged domestic wheat consumption at 12.4 million tonnes. (Reporting by Maximilian Heath in Buenos Aires and Ana Mano in São Paulo; Editing by Steven Grattan and Jan Harvey)

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