Flowers are symbolic of beauty, grace and elegance but what people don’t realize these days is that they are as toxic as automobile fumes or factory waste. The innocent petals are sprayed with toxic pesticides and from seed planting to blooming and marketing, flower cultivation leaves a poisonous trail.
Organic flowers are the healthy, clean alternative. When you buy organic flowers you don’t have to be afraid that you inhale poisonous fumes. Organic farms of flowers cultivate the flowers in ways that do not harm the environment. Flowers are reared in ways that Mother Nature intended them. They seem to last longer than non-organic ones.
The poison in non-organic flowers enters the lifestyle of people and their environment through many channels. Firstly pesticides and chemical used in growing and maintaining flowers affect farm workers and florists. Farm workers transmit the chemical home to their families through their contaminated clothes. Florists are known to develop dermatitis from constant handling of the flowers.
Secondly the toxic chemicals used in flower farms enter the immediate environment- they poison the ground water and the soil. The poisons enter the ecosystem as plants and animals eat the plants. Migrating birds transmit these poisons worldwide. Also these chemicals enter the atmosphere via evaporation and reach faraway places through the medium of wind, rain or snow.
Worker exposure to chemicals in the flower industry is high especially in greenhouses as up to 127 chemicals are used in enclosed spaces. This increases poisoning by inhalation and exposure to skin. In Ecuador, nearly 60% of flower workers showed symptoms of poisoning including headaches, dizziness, hand trembling and blurred vision. Reproductive health also suffered with cases of miscarriage and abortion on the increase among flower workers. Improper handling and storage of toxic chemicals, and lax enforcement of wearing of protective gear have all endangered worker’s health.
More than half of all cut flowers in the U.S. are imported from countries that have fewer restrictions on pesticide use. Even American flowers have found to be contaminated. For e.g. California grown roses were found to have 1000 times more the level of cancer causing pesticides as compared to food products in a study in 1997.
Preparing pest free flowers also endangered the Planet. Flowers are transported from greenhouse to stores about 1500 miles way on an average. This adds to global warming and pollution caused by vehicles that transport these flowers. Some fumes from farms add to the calamitous Ozone hole. In another way, floriculture has drained and depleted ground water. Aquifers have been poisoned by lethal run-offs and chemical wastes from farms.
Floriculture has brought employment opportunities for 190,000 persons in countries like Columbia, Mexico and India, but the generous use of pesticides in giant greenhouses threatens worker’s health and safety. A May 2002 story in Environmental Health perspectives published by U.S dept. of Health made a study of cut flower industry. Holland is the leader in cut flowers and Colombia is a close second. One out of every two flowers sold in the U.S. is grown in the Colombian Savannah. China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe all export flowers.
Organic flowers are a part of the general organic products movement. People initially gravitated towards the organic products in order to avoid pesticide residue in their food. Organic means an environmentally responsible farming method that applies to all areas of agriculture- potatoes or cotton or flowers. Flowers are the newest category in the $230 billion Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability market (LOHAS), which caters to around 50 million American consumers every year.
The flower market is booming as ever before- organic is fast becoming popular with growing awareness. In 2005, 118 million stems of Roses were produced on Valentine’s Day in the U.S. The floral and plant market for U.S. touched over $20 billion in 1995.Of these, organic flower market grew by 52% to $8 million in 2003. Thus organic is a fraction of the total flower market but it is set to grow at the rate of 13% annually through 2008.
In the early 1990’s, as European consumers began being aware of conditions in the cut flower business, Food First information and action network an Bread for The World began a campaign to certify flower producers. In1999, Flower Label program was launched in Germany. In which growers sign an International Code of Conduct (ICC) for socially and environmentally sustainable production of cut flowers. It prescribes decent and good working conditions and practices.
The Flower Label program initiated by FIAN has been adopted by 10 % of Ecuadorian floriculture business. The Rainforest Alliance along with sustainable Action Network is developing floriculture standards that would prohibit use of chemicals banned by leading international agencies like the U.N.’s F.A.O.
According to Organicbouquet.com, which is the first online organic florist, growing flowers organically- reduces toxic chemical usage, enlivens soil, is environment friendly, safe for farm workers, and promotes long term sustainability of farms. The problem with pesticides is that they don’t disappear they drift from water bodies to homes to garden to human bodies. Organic farming thus has beneficial effect on our health and environment.
The organic market is going through a shake-up. Some non-organic flower sellers are shifting to organic as it is a growing niche product. The case of California flowers is a point. For decades California supplied the nation’s flower shops. In 1991, the government reduced tariffs on flowers from South American countries and Californian flowers could not survive the competition. Today 80% of flowers that Americans buy are foreign. So many California farmers are shifting to special categories like organic flowers. The organic market is small but is slowly catching up.
Efforts at Certifications and standardizations in the industry have led to the development of VeriFlora (TM). It is a newly independent eco-certification developed by Scientific Certification systems, a neutral third party organization. It addresses agricultural practices, environmental protection and social responsibility. Organic farming practices are one of its criteria. Veriflora (™) has already certified 250 million stems. OrganicBouquet was the first Veriflora handler. The U.S. organic market is expected to reach $30.7 billion by end of 2007!