GM plants in our gardens?

Petunia Potunia Papaya Image: Dümmen Orange

Few subjects are as divisive as the GMO (Genetically modified organism) debate – well apart from Brexit (sorry to mention that again) and the sanity of Donald Trump (how can that be in question?). Personally I don’t think they are evil and, being a pragmatist, I don’t think we in Northern Europe, where food is, at present relatively abundant (if not always affordable to everyone), and where people are able to choose to spend more than necessary on organic produce (myself included) should proselitise to countries, where food is scarce, about the horrors of crops that may save them from starvation.

Would I grow a GM vegetable in my garden? Possibly not and I would not be in a hurry to plant it unless it has some nutritional benefit. I don’t believe that eating them poses a risk to health, though I have some sympathy for those that worry about mega-corporations rounding up vast amounts of money to the detriment of smaller companies and threatening genetic diversity.

So what has this to do with us in our gardens? After all, there are no GM plants available for us to grow, even though there are blue GM carnations sold as cut flowers in the EU and we all eat the product of GM soya and corn as high-fructose corn syrup, though the latter contains no DNA so the origin, GM or not, is irrelevant from a nutritional point of view.

But that changed this week when orange petunias were discovered to be genetically modified. The story broke when the Finnish Food Safety Authority removed orange petunias from sale. Among those affected were seed and plants of ‘African Sunset’ and vegetatively propagated ‘Pegasus Orange Morn’, ‘Pegasus Orange’, ‘Pegasus Table Orange’, ‘Potunia Papaya’, ‘Go!Tunia Orange’, ‘Sanguna Patio Salmon’ and ‘Sanguna Salmon’.

It is interesting that these are all orange and that ‘African Sunset’ is seed raised, bred by Takii of Japan, and a 2014 All America Selections award winner.

The problem seems to stem from the fact that no petunia is naturally orange and it was assumed that the colour was the result of genetic engineering. The offending plants were distributed from Germany (as are many plants). The German horticultural  association Zentralverband Gartenbau (ZVG) responded to the ban by saying that the petunias are no danger to people or the environment and even the Finnish Food Safety Authority accepted that, as tender plants, the orange petunias pose no threat to the environment. It seems odd to me that the ban has been placed on the plants and GM mentioned without, it seems to me, irrefutable evidence of the case, just that no petunia is naturally orange. But hey, I am no expert.

But should we have been told about the GM heritage of these plants? It makes me wonder about some of the other weird colours in petunias, to be honest. Am I worried about them in my garden? Well not at all, but I would have liked to have been told – but that would almost certainly have killed sales – especially in the EU where such plants are banned. This is the trouble with international plant sales where the huge investments required in breeding mean that only worldwide sales make the effort worthwhile  – and different countries have different laws.

Anyway, both the Netherlands and Germany have stopped sales of the plants. ( 10 may 2017)

In case you are in any way worried about this, if you have bough these plants they pose no threat to you and your garden and you won’t be prosecuted for having them in your hanging basket even though, in theory, it is illegal to grow them.

If you are worried, plant some cannabis instead – it is no more legal but at least you won’t worry about the consequences as much!

Information from – http://www.newplantsandflowers.com/genetically-modified-orange-petunias-banned-in-europa/

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3 Comments on “GM plants in our gardens?”

  1. Kathy Larson
    May 13, 2017 at 7:39 pm #

    I read an article in the Ball trade journal that a black petunia seedling was found in the floor of an American wholesale grower’s greenhouse(article was several years ago).The family’s matriarch had passed away the year before and it was seen almost as a last gift.Many unusual colors have been bred from that chance seedling.
    Re the orange petunia-never assume you know all the possibilities in a plant’s genes!I hybridize daylilies.The building blocks of the modern daylily are yellow,orange,and the dingy tint of H.fulva rosea.Who could have predicted the colors and patterns possible?
    Regarding GMOs-what a useful breeding technique!”Fish Genes”-no,just the same old ATCG we all share.Gene-transfer using bacteria-any idea of the thousands of bacteria that are intertwined with our body’s functioning?Bacteria now thought to be part of fern’s developing spores.Crosses between unrelated plants unnatural?Genetic research is showing how much that has always happened-winter squash just one example.
    So not unnatural or unusual,just a wonderful breeding tool.It has saved papaya farming,provides the rennet for most cheese,and hopefully improve nutrition in struggling countries.Yay science!

    • thebikinggardener
      May 14, 2017 at 11:26 am #

      I tried to be non-contentious and not have too much of an opinion in this post. And I did emphasise the ‘assume’ bit of the ban. I agree with your comments and understand (having read it) that all culinary sweet potatoes have bacterial DNA thanks to the natural exploits of Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Thank you for your interesting comments

  2. Kathy Larson
    May 15, 2017 at 3:42 am #

    Did not know that about sweet potatoes-a lot of assumptions in science are being overturned.Exciting times for horticulture!

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