Sometimes government regulators do things that are not merely misguided but gratuitously stupid. A classic example came last month, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture called for the destruction of at least 13 varieties of petunias with striking hues. These plants don’t pose any danger to health or the natural environment. But because they were crafted with modern genetic-engineering techniques, technically they’re in violation of 30-year-old government regulations.
These petunias, first developed in the 1980s, were sold around the globe for years without incident. Then in 2015 a Finnish plant scientist noticed bright-orange petunias at a train station in Helsinki. He recalled that such a variety was genetically engineered three decades prior but never commercialized. The scientist took a stem and later confirmed that it contained foreign DNA—a corn gene that confers the vivid color and a tiny sequence of DNA from a virus that turns on the newly-inserted gene.
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