For Valentines Day, birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions, giving flowers often seems like a gift from Mother Nature herself.
But when flowers are doused in pesticides and transported long (i.e., energy-intensive) distances, their eco-appeal quickly evaporates. The health impact conventionally-grown flowers has makes them even less desirable.
Consider this: Seventy percent of U.S. flowers are imported from Latin America, where growers in Columbia, Ecuador and other countries use pesticides that have long been banned in the U.S. A 2002 survey of 8,000 Colombian flower workers revealed exposure to 25 carcinogenic or highly toxic pesticides that are not used in the United States.
Often, women flower growers suffer impaired vision, asthma, and miscarriage or give birth to babies marked by lower birth weights and higher blood pressure. Thirty-five out of 72 Ecuadoran children tested by the Harvard School of Public Health experienced organophosphate pesticides in the womb while their mothers grew flowers. These children later suffered both higher blood pressure and poorer spatial ability than kids who escaped prenatal exposures. Overall, according to a study by the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF), two-thirds of Colombian and Ecuadorian flower workers suffer work-related health problems ranging from impaired vision and neurological problems Some women give birth to stillborn infants, or see their children die within a month after birth.
Meanwhile, the International Labor Organization estimates that 20 percent of flower workers in Ecuador are children, who are more vulnerable to chemical hazards than adults because their immune systems and vital organs are still immature. According to Environmental News Network, roses can contain as much as 50 times the amount of pesticides that are legally allowed on the food we eat. The U.S. requires imported flowers to be bug-free, but unlike edible fruits and vegetables they are not tested for chemical residues. So even if youre not growing these flowers yourselves, you may still be bringing the chemicals used on them into your home.
Fortunately, shoppers have a whole bouquet of alternatives to conventionally grown flowers and plants.
Check Local Harvest to find flower growers in your area, who can use less pesticides and less energy to get flowers to your door. Farmers markets also sell flowers, greens and plants that can make wonderful botanical gifts.
Some options to look for:
Beware Florverde: Colombia's flower exporters trade association says it certifies its members for improving worker safety and welfare. Nevertheless, almost 40 percent of the toxic chemicals applied by Florverde farms in 2005 were listed as extremely or highly toxic by the World Health Organization. If you need to buy flowers, choose those that are certified organic or sold under the Veriflora label.
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