The petunia breeders and/or distributors did not seem to be aware that they might be breeding or selling GE varieties. On May 2, 2017, Selecta One GmbH informed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) that one of its petunia varieties – an orange petunia – that was potentially genetically engineered had been imported and moved interstate without required authorization by APHIS. "This led to testing by USDA of numerous petunia varieties, which confirmed this particular variety and several others are indeed GE and meet their regulatory definition of a regulated article under APHIS regulations."
List of genetically engineered varieties
APHIS confirmed that the following varieties are genetically engineered (GE) to produce vivid orange, red, and purple blooms. These varieties have been imported into the United States from Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, South America, Australia, Israel, and Mexico.
- African Sunset
- Trilogy Mango
- Trilogy Deep Purple
- Trilogy Red
- Trilogy ’76 Mix-Liberty Mix
- Fortunia Early Orange
- Hells Bells Improved
- Petunia Salmon Ray
- Sweetunia Orange Flash
Tests are still ongoing and other varieties may be added to this list. In the meantime, these proven GE varieties are being withdrawn from distribution. "Several distributors have already voluntarily removed GE petunias from distribution and destroyed them in accordance with APHIS guidance", USDA states in their announcement.
APHIS is working in close cooperation with breeders and growers represented by and AmericanHort and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) to ensure the implicated GE petunia varieties are withdrawn from distribution. Bethany Shively of American Seed Trade Association commented as follows: "We were surprised by the finding of genetically modified petunias, stemming from research in Europe. Seed and plant companies are also conducting their own independent tests, and pulling varieties in question off the market."
Consumers who may have purchased GE petunias are not asked to take action. "The petunias are not considered to pose a risk to human health or the environment", as stated by the USDA. Besides that, "petunias are annual, ornamental plants that have no sexually compatible wild relatives in the United States, are not plant pests and are not listed as noxious weeds."
Authorization by APHIS
GE varieties can be sold in the USA, but they need a special permit. APHIS regulates the introduction (importation, interstate movement, or environmental release) of certain GE organisms. When a developer has collected enough evidence that a GE organism poses no more of a plant pest risk than an equivalent non-GE organism, the developer may submit a petition (request) to APHIS for non-regulated status. If APHIS grants non-regulated status, the GE organism may then be imported, moved, and planted in the United States without any further APHIS regulatory oversight.
Where it all began
The ball started to roll the end of April 2017, when Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira found orange petunias in Europe to be genetically engineered and when they prohibited any further sale of these petunia varieties in Finland. Following this news, breeders and growers in several other European countries decided to stop selling these varieties.