Cairo – Through an ambiguous statement, the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority announced the success of its scientists who specialized in agricultural research in the production of new mutations of wheat, which raised questions about the secret of that mutation and whether it was genetically modified. , and its health effects. as its importance to Egypt, the first importer of wheat in the world.
The researchers were able to deduce a number of high-yield wheat mutants with improved traits, both in terms of productivity, tolerance of salt lands and resistance to water scarcity, according to the confirmation from the Atomic Authority, which said the cultivation took place. at the government premises in the city of Anshas, Governorate Sharkia, which is about 60 km away, about the capital, Cairo.
While the statement did not indicate that the new wheat was genetically modified, the International Organization of Genetically Modified Plants (ISAAA) announced that the Egyptian government had begun harvesting genetically modified wheat.
Genetically modified wheat is genetically engineered by direct manipulation of its genes using biotechnology, and until 2020, GM wheat varieties were not allowed to be traded for human consumption worldwide.
Since the start of the Russo-Ukrainian war last February, the Egyptian government has been trying to implement a package of measures to avoid the country’s exposure to a food crisis due to a shortage of wheat, as Cairo relied on Moscow and Kiev. has to enter about 80. % of its foreign wheat needs in 2021.
The new mutations announced by the Atomic Energy Authority will lead to an increase in production rate with an increase of almost a tonne per acre compared to the Egyptian varieties currently in use, and will reduce the cultivation period as it takes 140 days from the start of planting to harvest.
The new mutations also produce excellent granules that contain a high percentage of purification, according to what the official authority has confirmed.
In this context, Amr El-Hajj, head of the Atomic Energy Authority, says that agricultural boom will contribute to an increase in wheat productivity in Egypt by not less than 33% compared to traditional types of wheat. Al-Hajj added in press statements that relying on the new varieties would bridge the food gap and reduce the quantities of imported wheat, thus saving hard currency and supporting the local economy.
The authority’s working team is preparing the samples requested by the Variety Registration Committee at the Ministry of Agriculture, and the procedures for registering a new grain variety so that it can be traded take about 3 years.
In turn, the Atomic Energy Authority’s media adviser, Sherif El-Gohary, called for reducing the stages of acceptance of agricultural boom, adding that the three-year period was exhausting the efforts of researchers, in addition to the grain production crisis. which the world is currently witnessing.
In press releases, he stressed the need to study the modification of the traditional frameworks used for the acceptance of agricultural mutations, with the possibility of testing and following up those mutations in the places of their production through specialized official committees with all tests are done on them, to ensure their properties and the conditions that allow their use.
Where is the scientific secretariat?
The discrepancy between what was announced by the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority and the International Organization for Genetically Modified Plants, which the international food expert and adviser to the former Minister of Supply, Nader Nour El-Din, saw as something inconsistent with the scientific integrity required by the Egyptian authorities.
In an article entitled “Production of Geneically Modified Wheat in Egypt: A Call for Dialogue”, he said that the Egyptian Government claims that the production of the new wheat variety took place due to natural mutations occurring in the countries, due to cosmic radiation and other factors.
The food expert explained that the production of grain by genetic mutation requires many genetic safety tests that take many years, adding that all countries of the world have banned the use of wheat due to genetic modification in the production of pastries and pasta, with his use limited to the production of biofuels and starch required for the production of motor oils and as feed.
Noureddine further explained the danger of the modified granules, “GMOs are organisms in which the genetic material of” nucleic acid “(DNA) has been altered in a laboratory way not found in nature, in which some selected genes are transferred from one organic organism to another, and this is done by using techniques called Genetic Engineering “.
He gave an example by transferring a gene that tolerates extreme cold from frozen sea fish to some wheat varieties so that the crop can withstand the cold climate.
However, no transfer is not as easy as expected. According to the former adviser to the Minister of Provision, not all genetic engineering experiments lead to the expected results. He added: “In India, in 2011, eggplants were genetically modified to resist. Insect infections caused swelling and cancers in various parts of the body.”
And he indicated that poor African countries are refusing to accept aid from wheat produced by genetic modification, so as not to become test mice for the major producing countries.
At the end of his article, the food expert asked, “Will we allow the use of genetically modified wheat in Egypt, despite the fact that it is banned from all countries of the world?”
optimization and modification
There is a big difference between genetic improvement and genetic modification, according to Professor at the Field Crop Research Institute, Abdel Salam Minshawi.
Menshawi said in press releases that genetically modified wheat is limited to human intervention in traditional crossbreeding between the genetic origins that carry the desired traits, adding that this crossbreeding is aimed at finding genetic variations or new genetic structures, thereby selecting and obtaining of new varieties bearing characteristics Desirable in productivity and tolerant to environmental conditions.
In terms of genetic modification, it is a completely different topic, according to Menshawi’s assertion, which suggests that it depends on changing the genetic structure of the plant by one of the techniques of biotechnology for genetic engineering, by introducing new genes into the plant to introduce or modify the genetic composition.
He stressed that genetic modification is banned worldwide, and there are no varieties of genetically modified wheat that are traded commercially.
forbid and leave
In 2016, local media reported that the Egyptian parliament was ready to discuss a draft law on “Biosafety in the handling of genetic mutation products”.
The law prepared by the Ministry of Environment included 28 articles, including encouraging the handling of the maximum safe use of genetic modification techniques, facilitating the handling of other countries in the safe use of genetically modified products with transparency, and the emphasis on the consumer’s right to choose freely between genetically modified products and other products.
It also included the assessment of potential risks to human health and the environment, including living organisms, from the release of genetically modified products into the environment.
After that, the media did not mention the fate of the bill, whether it was rejected or passed by Parliament.
In 2016, the British Royal Society called for a review of the ban imposed by European countries on genetically modified crops. The association’s president, Venki Ramakrishnan, said it was inappropriate to ban GM technology altogether, adding that products should be evaluated individually.
“Genomic modification is a technology that aims to introduce a certain set of traits into plants, and you have to decide which traits are appropriate and which are not in each case,” he said, defending genetically modified crops.
This ban on genetic modification was broken by Argentina in 2020, when it approved the marketing of a type of genetically modified wheat (HB4), which became the first country in the world to do so.
Last November, Brazil agreed to import Argentine flour made from wheat that has been genetically modified to withstand drought and common herbicides, making it the first market in the world to grant that approval.