Petunias come in a wide range of colours. Credit: Missouri State University

The Finnish authorities recently discovered that several of the orange coloured garden petunia varieties present on the Finnish market are genetically modified (GM). No GM garden petunia varieties have been authorised for cultivation, import, distribution or retail in the European Union. The GM petunia varieties (cuttings and seeds) detected in Finland originated from companies in the Netherlands and Germany. The companies involved have terminated all sales of the GM orange petunia varieties and withdrawn the petunia plants and seeds from garden centers and nurseries.

Upon the alert of the Finnish Food Safety Authority (Evira), the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (Inspectie Leefomgeving en Transport, ILT) launched an investigation and submitted to COGEM a request for advice on the possible impact of the unauthorised release of the GM petunias on the environment. In addition, ILT asked COGEM to advise on suitable methods for destruction of unauthorised GM petunias.

The garden petunia (Petunia hybrida) is one of the most popular bedding plants throughout the world. The garden petunia is a so-called tender perennial, which is grown as an annual in many climate zones. The garden petunia may fertilise other garden petunia varieties or close relatives present in Europa. Garden petunia seedlings are observed at locations were they have been planted, but the majority of these reseeded garden petunias will not survive winter time. Garden petunias have no invasive or weedy characteristics and appear to be unable to establish and form self-sustaining populations in Europe.

There are no reasons to assume that the transgenic traits (altered flower colour and antibiotic resistance) introduced in the GM garden petunias alter the fitness of the garden petunia or its relatives. Even though over a million of GM orange garden petunias have been sold, COGEM is not aware of any reports on petunia populations with orange flowers in Europa. In view of the above, and based on the information currently available, COGEM is of the opinion that GM garden petunias with an altered flower colour pose a negligible risk to humans and the environment.

The present COGEM advice is based on the information which is currently available on the unauthorised GM petunias. At this moment the origin of the GM petunias is not known and detailed information on the inserted elements is not yet available. When more detailed information becomes available, COGEM will update its advice.

Source: SeedQuest

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