The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) recently learned that several varieties of petunias genetically engineered (GE) to produce various hues of orange, red and purple colored flowers have been imported into the United States from Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, South America, as well as the countries of Australia, Israel, and Mexico, and distributed interstate without proper authorization as required by APHIS regulations at 7 CFR part 340.
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.
APHIS is working in close cooperation with breeders and growers represented by the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and AmericanHort to ensure the implicated GE petunia varieties are withdrawn from distribution. Several distributors have already voluntarily removed GE petunias from distribution and destroyed them in accordance with APHIS guidance.
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 nonregulated status. If APHIS grants nonregulated status, the GE organism may then be imported, moved, and planted in the United States without any further APHIS regulatory oversight.
On May 2, 2017, APHIS 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.
APHIS continues to work with industry to ensure unauthorized GE petunias are not distributed in the United States.
Consumers who may have purchased GE petunias need take no action, as the petunias are not considered to pose a risk to human health or the environment. Retailers, growers and breeders are being asked to voluntarily withdraw GE petunias from distribution. The petunia varieties that tests have confirmed to be genetically engineered so far include:
Testing is ongoing and other varieties may be added to this list. APHIS will distribute more information as results are confirmed.