What is wrong with this picture?  Petunias are not naturally orange.  The African Sunset petunia sold by Sears and other retailers in the U.S.,  is genetically modified.  News of the illegal entry and subsequent U.S. investigation was released on May 14 by Greenhouse Management News.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is now working with breeders and growers represented by the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and AmericanHort to ensure that all the implicated genetically engineered petunia varieties are withdrawn from distribution, and destroy the illegal genetically modified petunias.

According to the Finnish Food Safety Authority, Evira, who first sounded the alert, “the orange color of the flowers has definitely been generated by means of genetic engineering. “Petunia flowers cannot be orange by nature. In the plants, we found ‘foreign’ material: genes that do not occur naturally in the plant’s DNA. We believe the orange color probably comes from a maize gene, a gene more often used to get a tone of orange. Whether it definitely is the maize gene or something else, remains to be proven. However, evidence for GM is irrefutable.”

Why worry about non-edible GMOs?  Why should we be concerned?

Petunias are annual, ornamental plants that have no sexually compatible wild relatives in the United States, and so will not cross-pollinate.  Although they are not a food product, petunias are known for their sweet smell.  What about unpredictable allergens?

What about the bees and hummingbirds?  Will the pollen contaminate honey in nearby hives?  Can genes spread to the soil and via fungi?  There are numerous issues that can influence the complex ecosystem.

Furthermore, this points to an extremely lax regulatory system that will continue to be challenged to deal with rogue GMOs, fraudulent imports, and adventitious contamination.

Petunia varieties that tests have confirmed to be genetically engineered so far include:

  • 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

Testing is ongoing and other varieties may be added to this list. APHIS will distribute more information as results are confirmed.

IRT is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit educational organization dedicated to the elimination of GMOs.  Learn more about the health and environmental risks of GMOs at ResponsibleTechnology.org.