The Dark Side of the Flower Industry
Who doesn’t love receiving flowers? The gift of flowers is a universal expression of beauty, love and friendship. But those bright floral bouquets have a dark side — one the conventional cut flower industry would probably rather keep a secret.
Flowers may smell lovely, but you might want to avoid sticking your nose in a bouquet of conventionally grown roses. Industrial flower farms use the very same pesticides, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and other toxic chemicals used to grow conventional produce to grow the roses, tulips and lilies we love. And these chemicals can easily make their way into your body through your nose and skin.
The demand among consumers for pristine, unblemished flowers has unfortunately encouraged flower growers to use incredibly high levels of toxic chemicals in the growing process. As a result, flower farm workers are exposed to high levels of carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors and other toxic chemicals — all of which also end up in our air, water and soil.
There are virtually no regulations in the U.S. on pesticide use on cut flowers, and importers are not required to monitor pesticide levels. A 1997 Environmental Working Group study found that conventionally grown flowers may be doused with up to 50 times the amount of pesticides allowed for use on conventional food crops. Most of the flowers sold in this country are imported from places as far away as Colombia and China, and these flowers may be grown with chemicals that have been banned altogether in the U.S. One study found 127 potentially toxic chemicals in common use in Colombian greenhouses (the origin of about half of the cut flowers imported to the U.S.).
To top it all off, the majority of industrial flower farm workers outside of the U.S. are women, many of whom are single mothers, who may earn little as 58 cents an hour. They are forced to put up with poor working conditions and constant exposure to toxic chemicals. The Organic Consumers Association reports higher rates of cervical cancer and infertility among female flower farm employees. These workers put in long hours, especially before holidays like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.
Pretty sobering stuff. I had not fully grasped the horrors of the cut flower industry before I set out to do research for this article. I encourage you to visit USLEAP’s website to learn more about the cut flower industry and how you can support their campaign to improve the wages and working conditions for flower workers in Latin America.
The good news is that you can still give your Mom a gorgeous floral arrangement for Mother’s Day, without endangering her health or contributing to the endangerment of the health of other mothers. This year, I’m planning to give my Mom (an avid gardener and appreciator of all things flowery) a beautiful bouquet of organic, fair trade flowers.
Chances are your local farmer grows beautiful fresh bouquets just down the road from you! Simply stop by your local farmers’ market this weekend or visit LocalHarvest.org for a searchable directory of flower growers in your area.
There may not be time this year to order flowers online in time for Mother’s Day, but next time you want to send flowers, check out Organic Bouquet, a great online source for beautiful eco-friendly floral arrangements. They obtain their products from companies who provide their employees with safe and just working conditions and livable wages. Organic Bouquet also adheres to rigorous U.S. and international environmental sustainability standards. In addition, when you order arrangements through their Flowers for Good program, they will donate 5% of your purchase to a charity organization.