Every Rose Has Its Thorn

New options bloom outside an unscrupulous flower industry

| February 8, 2007

Analyzed by the most soulful of poets and adored tenderly by the most perfunctory of scientists, flowers have resounded through the ages as emblems of beauty, sex, and love -- the ideal token of affection for a sweetie or loved one. Yet the modern commercial flower and the $40 billion a year industry behind it have a sinister side that might just change the way you say 'be mine' this Valentine's Day.

In her new book, Flower Confidential, Amy Stewart illuminates many sinister facets of the business, botany, and history of flowers. Stewart reports that 78 percent of the estimated 4 billion flowers purchased in the United States each year come from overseas -- most from Latin America, where flower growers are notorious for their shoddy labor rights records.

Poor wages, unjust firings, discrimination, anti-union threats, and even child labor are all problems the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) has seen among Latin American flower growers. Through their Fairness in Flowers campaign, the ILRF reported that some flower workers in Colombia are exposed to more than 100 different pesticides, three of which are rated 'extremely toxic' by the World Health Organization and many of which are banned in the United States. The harmful effects of the pesticides aren't seen only in the environment and water supplies surrounding industrial flower greenhouses, but also in the ailing bodies of their workers. Headaches, nausea, impaired vision, miscarriages, congenital malformations, and respiratory and neurological problems are just some of the reported health problems facing flower industry workers.

While that litany of maladies may appear to dash any romantic floral prospects, there is some hope to be found in alternatives. Organic Bouquet, a pioneer in the organic flower business, reports bright prospects for the trade. A certification program called VeriFlora empowers consumers by verifying the social and environmental practices behind the blooms they're about to buy. And for Valentine's-centric help, the Organic Consumers Association offers the 'Unchain Your Heart!' buyer's guide.

Perhaps the best option, however, is to grow your own flowers. What better way to tell your Valentine 'I love you' than with wildflower seeds that will bring a bloom that lasts all summer?

Go there >> Flower Confidential

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