Questions and answers: Genetically Engineered Petunias

How are these petunias genetically engineered?

These petunias are genetically engineered (GE) to produce orange flowers by using a gene from corn. This gives the petunias the ability to produce an orange pigment in their flowers, in addition to any other pigments produced in the flower. This pigment is found naturally in other flowering plants, but was new to petunias.

Why is the CFIA only making its decision now on these genetically engineered petunias?

The original GE petunia was developed in Europe in 1987, and subsequently entered petunia breeding programs and the supply chain without the proper notification of the authorities. The CFIA, like other regulators around the world, only became aware that these GE petunias were produced and sold in the spring of 2017. An assessment was made by the CFIA immediately after becoming aware of the situation.

Will the CFIA regulate these petunias?

Following a science-based analysis, the CFIA has determined that these GE petunias pose no more risk to the environment than conventional petunias. Therefore, they are not considered to be a plant with novel traits and will not be regulated in Canada.

Are the plants regulated in other countries?

Unlike Canada's risk-based approach, most countries regulate the environmental release of plant products based on the technique used in their development (i.e. genetic engineering is regulated, regardless of risk). Recently these GE petunias have been regulated by Australia and several European countries although none of these countries have identified specific environmental risks.

Why is Canada not in line with the others countries? How does Canada regulate products of plant biotechnology?

In Canada, the CFIA regulates the product, not the process by which it was developed (e.g. conventional breeding, genetic engineering (GE), mutagenesis, etc.).

Regardless of the method used to introduce a trait, the CFIA considers whether a plant may be a plant with a novel trait (PNT) based on whether it is equivalent to plants of that species in Canada in terms of potential impact on the environment.

If there is no scientific evidence or expectation of potential environmental impact, the plant is not considered to be a PNT, and is treated like any other variety of that plant species. All plants that may have a potential impact on the environment are considered to be PNT, and are subject to an environmental safety assessment before being released in Canada.

This approach allows the Canadian regulatory system to efficiently adjust to any new developments in the science of plant breeding.

Are these GE petunias considered to be novel?

No. The CFIA has considered several sources of information and scientific rationales, and has determined that these GE petunias pose no more risk to the environment than conventional petunias. They are not considered to be PNT, will be treated like any other petunia variety, and will not be regulated in Canada.

Are these GE petunias authorized to be marketed in Canada?

Yes. Since these GE petunias are not considered to be PNT, they are permitted in the Canadian marketplace and subject to the same oversights as any other petunia variety.

Are there any risks to having GE petunias in Canada? What is the CFIA doing about GE petunias in the Canadian supply chain?

There is no scientific evidence that these GE petunias pose any risk to humans or the environment. Therefore, the CFIA is not requiring that distributors or producers of GE petunias remove them from the supply chain. Similarly, consumers who may have purchased these petunia varieties do not need to take any action.

Does this mean that the environmental release of other GE plants may not be regulated in Canada?

Canada regulates the product, not the process by which it was developed. This means that if a GE plant is equivalent to plants of the same species in terms of environmental impact, the plant is not considered to be a PNT, and is treated like any other variety of that plant species, regardless of the method used to introduce a trait to the GE plant.

More information about determining whether a plant is considered a PNT can be found in Directive 2009-09: Plants with novel traits regulated under Part V of the Seeds Regulations: Guidelines for determining when to notify the CFIA.

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