From: Joyce Newman, The Green Guide
Published February 10, 2006 12:00 AM

Best Blooms for Valentine’s Day -- A Guest Commentary

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 wrote:


“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 Organization.“


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.


ENN welcomes a wide range of perspectives in its Commentary Series. To find out more or to submit a commentary for consideration please contact ENN's editor, Carrie Schluter: carrie@enn.com.


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