Search
phone 877-899-2468 | my account | basket
Originally published online in the February 12, 2007 issue of MSNBC through the Associated Press
PRESSROOM HOME
 
What's New
Press Releases
Media & Online Coverage
Video Clips
 
Resources
About Us
FAQ
Eco Standards
Research
 
Together We Can
Song
 
Contact Us
Media Contacts
MSNBC

Valentine roses get dipped in chemicals

By Joshua Goodman
The Associated Press - February 12, 2007


BOGOTA, Colombia - It's probably the last thing most people think about when buying roses. But by the time the velvety, vibrant-colored flowers reach a Valentine's Day buyer, most will have been sprayed, rinsed and dipped in a battery of potentially lethal chemicals.

Most of the toxic assault takes place in the waterlogged savannah surrounding the capital of Colombia, which has the world's second-largest cut-flower industry after the Netherlands, producing 62 percent of all flowers sold in the United States.

With 110,000 employees—many of them single mothers—and annual exports of $1 billion, the industry provides an important alternative to growing coca, the source crop of the Andean nation's better known illegal export: cocaine.

But these economic gains come at a cost to workers' health and Colombia's environment, according to consumer advocates who complain of an over-reliance on chemical pesticides.

Colombia's flower exporters association responded by launching Florverde, which has certified 86 of its 200 members for taking steps to improve worker safety and welfare. Florverde says its members have reduced pesticide use by 38 percent since 1998, to an average of 213 pounds of active ingredient per hectare (2.4 acres) per year.

"Every day we're making more progress," said Florverde director Juan Carlos Isaza. "The value of Florverde is that these best practices have now been standardized and are being adopted by the industry."

'Extremely' toxic not uncommon
Nevertheless, 36 percent of the toxic chemicals applied by Florverde farms in 2005 were listed as "extremely" or "highly" toxic by the World Health Organization, Isaza acknowledged.

And unlike in the United States, Colombia has no government regulations about pesticide use inside greenhouses, where toxicity levels tend to rise.

Even with more stringent guidelines, accidents happen.

On Nov. 25, 2003, some 200 workers at Flores Aposentos were hospitalized after fainting and developing sores inside their mouths. Authorities determined this mass poisoning could have been caused by any number of pesticide-handling violations, but fined the company just $5,770.

Government oversight is relatively strict in the United States—in California, each flower farm's pesticide use is available for review on the Internet. But there are no reliable statistics about chemicals used by Colombia's 600-plus flower farms, in part because only a third belong to Asocolflores, the exporters' association, which does keep good records.

The U.S. requires imported flowers to be bug-free, although not necessarily void of chemical residues, as required for edible fruits and vegetables. But the reliable highland tropical climate that drew U.S. flower growers to Colombia and Ecuador is a haven for pests.

This encourages growers to apply a wide range of fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides, some of which have been linked to elevated rates of cancer and neurological disorders and other problems.

Causal links between these chemicals and individual illnesses are hard to prove because chronic pesticide exposure has not been studied in enough detail.

Harvard health study
But researchers have found some disturbing data: The Harvard School of Public Health examined 72 children ages 7-8 in a flower-growing region of Ecuador whose mothers were exposed to pesticides during pregnancy and found they had developmental delays of up to four years on aptitude tests.

"Every time we look, we're finding out these pesticides are more dangerous than we ever thought before and more toxic at lower levels," said Philippe Grandjean, who led the Harvard study published last year.

Carmen Orjuela began suffering dizzy spells and repeated falls in 1997, while working at a flower farm outside Bogota. During the peak season before Valentine's Day, she said her employer forced workers to enter greenhouses only a half-hour after they had been fumigated.

"Those who refused were told they could leave—that 20 people were outside waiting to take their job," said Orjuela, who quit in 2004.

Orjuela's employer, Flores de la Sabana, denied ever disregarding manufacturer-recommended re-entry times, but a toxicology study from Colombia's National University obtained by The Associated Press confirmed that Orjuela's illness was "directly related to an important exposure to potentially toxic chemical substances." A government arbiter finally ordered the company to pay her a pension equal to the $200 monthly minimum wage earned by most workers.

Such problems apparently aren't isolated: a survey of 84 farms between 2000 and 2002, partly financed by Asocolflores, found only 16.7 percent respected Florverde's recommendation that workers wait 24 hours before re-entering greenhouses sprayed with the most toxic of pesticides.

Risks, rewards to organic
Producers say they would love to go organic, especially given the high costs of pesticides. But their risks include infestations and stiff competition from emerging flower growers in Africa and China.

"The biggest hurdle to going organic is that once you're there you have to be prepared to lose your crop," said John Amaya, president of the Miami-based flower unit of Dole Food Co., Colombia's largest flower grower.

Still, U.S. consumers bought $16 million in organic flowers in 2005, and demand is growing by 50 percent a year, according to the Organic Trade Association.

That growth has been helped by "VeriFlora," a certification and labeling program launched by U.S. consumers, growers and retailers including Whole Foods Market Inc. Some 32 farms in Colombia and Ecuador have earned the VeriFlora label, which requires a transition to organic production and, unlike the industry-backed Florverde, bans more than 100 chemicals outright.

"Unfortunately, existing programs have deficiencies that would not fly in the American marketplace," said Linda Brown, vice president of Scientific Certification Systems, which runs the VeriFlora program.

Gerald Prolman, CEO of San Francisco-based Organic Bouquet.com, counts on VeriFlora-certified growers for much of his supply.

"If producers want to distinguish their flowers from the glut of cheap, chemically produced ones in the world right now they need to ensure that their farms have fully incorporated socially and environmentally responsible practices that consumers demand and are willing to pay more for," he said.



Follow us on Twitter Fan us on Facebook
© Copyright 2014 OrganicBouquet.com

Sustainable Flowers Make The Perfect Gift For All Occasions

Organic Bouquet is the largest online provider of eco-friendly and organic floral gifts. All of our flowers are grown in a manner that is not only environmentally friendly but also provides outstanding resources for farm workers and artisans. Organic Bouquet partners with select flower farms in California, Ecuador and Colombia. All of our flower farms follow stringent growing practices which are monitored by multiple certification agencies and associations. When you purchase flowers from Organic Bouquet, you are helping to improve the life of a flower farm worker, their family and the local floral community.

Our eco-friendly flower arrangements include roses, calla lilies, tulips, gerbera daisies, hyacinths, sunflowers, alstromeria lilies and blue iris. In addition to a complete line of flower arrangements, we offer gift baskets, fruit baskets, nut baskets, gourmet chocolates, gourmet cookies, plants and  wreaths. All of these products are certified eco-friendly and/or provide for environmental benefits through our participation in Carbon Offset programs.

Whatever the occasion, our flowers make the perfect gift- birthday celebration flowers, anniversary flowers, holiday flowers, or floral arrangements simply to say thank you. Sending flowers from Organic Bouquet says that you care not only about the person receiving the flowers, but also about the environment. All of our gift items are shipped nationwide to all 50 states. So whether you need to send flowers to Florida, New York, California, or Colorado, we can guarantee overnight delivery to ensure they arrive fresh and ready to put a smile on someone’s face.

Whether you are purchasing online, or through one of our customer service specialists, you can be assured you are ordering the freshest quality of flowers and environmentally friendly gifts.