US confirms GM petunias but UK investigations still ongoing

Defra says tests on suspected GM orange petunias are still ongoing and will give no timeframe for their completion, but Defra's US equivalent ministry USDA says tests are partially complete and some are positive.

pic: Evira
pic: Evira

USDA said this week varieties that they have confirmed to be genetically engineered are: African Sunset, Fortunia Early Orange, Hells Bells Improved, Petunia Salmon Ray, Sweetunia Orange Flash, Trilogy Mango, Trilogy Deep Purple, Trilogy Red and Trilogy ’76 Mix-Liberty Mix.

USDA have asked breeders, growers and retailers to "voluntarily withdraw GE plants from distribution" and say they are a compliance issue, not a safety concern.

Defra will not comment on any aspect of the UK investigation, which began after Finnish agency Evira discovered GM petunias for sale this spring. The HTA subsequently warned Defra they were likely to be sale in the UK too. Defra has confirmed investigations are still ongoing and will "determine how widespread they are" if and when they are confirmed. Defra emphasises: "We don't know whether they are in the UK yet. We have not had evidence they are."

UK distributors and retailers have withdrawn suspected GM petunias for sale under instruction from Defra.

USDA said: "On May 2, 2017, APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] was informed by Selecta Klemm GmbH & Co that one of its petunia varieties – an orange petunia – was potentially genetically engineered and 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 our regulatory definition of a regulated article under APHIS regulations."

The full list of varieties which to date have been implicated as GM is:

  • Pegasus Orange (found in UK)
  • Pegasus Orange Morn (in UK)
  • Pegasus Table Orange
  • Potunia Plua Papaya (in UK)
  • Go!Tunia Orange (in UK)
  • Bonnie Orange
  • African Sunset (in UK)
  • Sanguna Patio Salmon
  • Sanguna Salmon (in UK)
  • Electric Orange
  • Viva Orange
  • Viva Fire (in UK)
  • Viva Orange Vein (in UK)

Further testing in the UK or by the responsible breeding company has confirmed that the Sanguna Salmon and Potunia Plua Papaya varieties are GM. Confirmatory testing is being performed on the other varieties known to be in the UK, for which the results should become available shortly.

Defra said on 11 May: "Following an initial report that GM petunias had been found on the market in Finland, supplied as young plants from Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, the European Commission asked other EU Member States to check the position in their territory and take appropriate action. 

"Although the petunias are not considered to pose a risk to human health or the environment, because there is no EU authorisation for GM petunias they cannot legally be sold.  The task for the UK authorities is therefore to ensure that no marketing of GM petunias is taking place.  Defra is the responsible authority for England with the Devolved Administrations (DAs) in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland responsible for their territories.  In practice Defra is working with the DAs to ensure a joined-up approach across the UK.

"Our Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has emailed importers and producers of petunia plants and seeds in England and Wales, making it clear that GM plants must not be marketed and asking them to confirm if they are holding petunias of the following varieties which the Finnish authorities found to be GM:

  • Pegasus Orange
  • Pegasus Orange Morn
  • Pegasus Table Orange
  • Potunia Plua Papaya
  • Go!Tunia Orange
  • Bonnie Orange
  • African Sunset
  • Sanguna Patio Salmon
  • Sanguna Salmon
  • Electric Orange
  • Viva Orange
  • Viva Fire
  • Viva Orange Vein

"Where stocks are being held APHA is following this up and, as necessary, will ensure that GM material is not being sold.  Similar action will be taken in Scotland and Northern Ireland.  In practice we understand that importers/producers have already moved to withdraw suspect material from the market.  We do not envisage that special measures are needed for the disposal of affected plants, given that they are not thought to be a risk.

"At this stage it is not clear how GM material has got into the petunia supply chain in Europe.  There is no evidence to suggest GM plants have been introduced deliberately rather than inadvertently.  We are working with EU authorities to locate the source of the issue with a view to preventing further occurrences."

For further information, please contact DEFRA GM and Genetic Resources Team General: 0345 933 5577 Email: gm-regulation@defra.gsi.gov.uk


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