In a major contravention of European Union regulatory processes this week, Genetically Modified (GMO) petunia cultivars have been found in Germany, with further inquires finding them in British garden centres as well.
The EU has long-held a tight regulatory grip on the selling of GMOs, following a precautionary principle that demands pre-market authorisation of any GMO before they enter the market, as well as stringent environmental monitoring thereafter.
But surprise, embarrassment and alarm were the order of the day when several petunia cultivars containing genes from GMO corn crops slipped through the net and were discovered for sale in Germany recently. Three out of five product lines tested were found to be GMOs. The plants were discovered to have originated from a company in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and have since been destroyed by the German Ministry of Environment.
Across the Channel, the UK Horticultural Trades Association confirmed that the GMO petunias were found for sale in Britain as well but were quick to reassure consumers that they posed no threat to people, animals or the environment. They have put together a factsheet for those worried about having purchased any of the suspect plants.
The company responsible for some of the plants, Syngenta, have advised their customers to destroy them and have suggested that any GMO contamination in the lines was entirely inadvertent, saying that preliminary investigations have shown the petunias were produced via ‘conventional breeding’.
Exactly how the GM genes found their way into the lines of orange petunias is currently a mystery, but investigations are underway to pinpoint the source. The blunder has seen concern expressed by anti-GMO activists groups and industry bodies alike. Director of GM Freeze, Liz O’Neill, has said that the disregard for regulatory processes highlighted by the products hitting the market in the UK is a big worry, adding that:
“Consumers have a right to choose GM-free.”
Essex nurseryman , Michael Smith, was quick to allay any panic about the plants, saying it was more an issue for the industry to deal with internally:
“It’s disappointing that it’s happened. The industry need to deal with this… and get it sorted before it becomes a bigger mess. But I don’t think the public should be concerned.”
Test results on more suspect plants back in Germany are expected this week, with ongoing investigations to get to the root of the contamination ongoing. It will be an interesting one to watch, especially if the results confirm GMOs have found their way into ornamental plant breeding programs without the knowledge of the breeders.