Best Blooms for Valentine's Day
A Guest Commentary
By Joyce Newman
The Green Guide
February 10, 2006
In a few days many of us will send or receive flower for Valentine's Day. But this year
we have a new, more socially responsible choice when it comes to buying cut flowers.
For the first time, we can give a beautiful bouquet that is grown under a new standard
in a manner that is safer for farm workers, their families, and the environment. The
standard, called Veriflora, is in the process of becoming a national standard for the
fresh-cut flower trade.
The Veriflora label goes beyond U.S.D.A organic standards and means that growers
use sustainable agriculture methods including fair treatment of workers, water
conservation, waste management, and other forms of ecological protection. Workers on
Veriflora farms have the right to organize, receive overtime pay, and health benefits.
Outside auditors certify the farms and test for compliance, arriving unannounced.
Although sales of pesticide-free organic flowers are growing, they are still a very small
part of the $20 billion a year U.S. floral industry According to the Society of American
Florists, approximately 70 % of the fresh flowers sold in the U.S. are imported—mostly
from Ecuador and Columbia in South America. Most of these flowers are grown with a
variety of fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, nematocides, and plant-growth regulators
—the floral industry worldwide is one of the heaviest users of hazardous pesticides.
Because the U.S. government requires that flowers arrive at our borders pest-free,
pesticides are used even more heavily. Ironically, U.S. trade laws therefore encourage
the use of toxic pesticides that can negatively affect the environment and worker's
health. Evidence of serious, widespread health problems among workers and damage
to the environment has been documented over the past few years, most thoroughly in a
2002 firsthand report by Ross Wehner, "Deflowering Ecuador" published by Mother
Jones magazine. On a visit to Ecuador's booming rose industry based in Cayambe, he
"In recent years, studies by the International Labor Organization and Ecuador's
Catholic University have found that as many as 60 percent of post harvest workers
complain of pesticide-poisoning symptoms, including headaches, blurred vision, and
muscular twitching. Women in the industry, who represent 70 percent of all rose
workers, experience significantly elevated rates of miscarriages. Children under 18,
who make up more than a fifth of the workforce, display signs of neurological damage
at 22 percent above average."
"Dr. Toribio Valladares, head of the Red Cross in Cayambe, says the town's air and
water have been contaminated by chemicals from the industry….Valladares has seen a
wide range of chronic respiratory ailments in the rose workers who line up to see him at
his cramped office near the town's square. Even worse, he says, he has seen
numerous cases of female workers whose children have been born with severe birth
defects — an incidence that has also been documented by the World Health
To help support alternative, healthier working conditions on flower farms, the editors of
The Green Guide provide a list of organic flower sellers and prices. You can buy
organic flowers online from Organicbouquet.com, the company that launched the
Veriflora labeling program. Veriflora bouquets are also available at natural food stores
include Whole Foods markets nationwide.
An award-winning broadcast journalist and new media executive whose credits include
a wide range of environmental and "green consumer" websites and programs, Joyce H.
Newman is a Trustee of the Green Guide Institute, a nonprofit, independent publisher
of consumer health and safety advice, product reviews, and shopping tips. She
currently heads Newman Productions, specializing in strategic communications for a
variety of national nonprofit organizations.