Whilst the merits of genetically modified (GM) foodstuffs is a widely debated topic in the EU, non-edibles also face similar scrutiny.
A variety of GM carnation (SHD-27531-4) (developed by the Dutch company Suntory Holdings Ltd) was recently sought approval for import and distribution in the EU cut flower market. It displays a modified petal colour and is tolerant to sulfonylurea herbicides.
Following objections from Cyprus to the GM carnation being imported and distributed in the EU, the European Commission asked the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA GMO Panel) to conduct a review of its safety.
In a scientific report published on Monday 10th November 2014, the Parma-based agency reassured Cyprus on the safety of the enhanced GM carnation variety SHD-27531-4.
The panel acknowledged that the propagation (i.e. rooting) of the GM flower by individuals “cannot be excluded” but noted that, in the unlikely event that this did happen, the carnation “would not show any potential for increased survival, fitness or weediness compared with its parental line”.
Furthermore, scientists added that the potential spread of pollen from the GM cut flower to other wild flower species “cannot be eliminated but is highly unlikely to occur”. They noted that plant-to-plant gene transfer of the introduced genes to a wild line was very unlikely and that, if it did occur, production of viable seed in these hybrids leading to adverse environmental effects would also be unlikely.
Irrespective of authorisation, the question remains whether consumers are more open to the presence of GM non-edibles than they are to edible produce.
Would GM carnations need to be labelled as such?
If GMOs are approved for marketing by the EU they have to be labelled, even if they are not for consumption, as specified at Article 19.3(e) of Directive 2001/18, as read with Annex IV. An EU authorising decision for a carnation will therefore include a section on labelling – see Article 3(e) as per this example:
"The words ‘This product is a genetically modified organism' or ‘This product is a genetically modified carnation’ and the words ‘not for human or animal consumption nor for cultivation’ shall appear either on a label or in a document accompanying the product."