Ah, love. Each Valentine’s Day, lovers take pause to recognize that special someone in their lives. Pink and red hearts ornament retail locations, and flowers, chocolates, jewelry and other gifts are purchased and exchanged. Hands are held, sweet nothings are shared and love is in the air.
But what if these tokens of romantic affection mean something more sinister than the celebration of love and friendship? What if the production of these goods comes at a grave cost for the people directly connected to them?
The term “blood roses” might not mean much to the many Americans who will purchase long stem red roses by the dozen this Valentine’s Day. But, to those laborers involved in the growing, cleaning and shipping of cut flowers in Ecuador and Columbia, the term represents the adverse health effects and environmental degradation that have become synonymous with the regions’ cut flower industry.
The U.S. imports the bulk of its cut flowers from Ecuador and Columbia, where toxic pesticides are used heavily. The laborers (60 percent of whom are women) handling these flowers, whether in the fields or when getting them ready for transport by bathing them in chemicals to kill off insects and mildew, are in direct, daily contact with toxic pesticides.
A 2006 study conducted in northern Ecuador and published in Pediatrics concluded that prenatal pesticide exposure was linked to lasting neurotoxic damage and malnutrition of children in developing countries. Other studies have shown that women exposed to pesticides have a much higher rate of pregnancy loss than that of unexposed women.
Frequently reported symptoms of pesticide inhalation and exposure include headaches, dizziness, rashes, nausea, blurred vision, infertility, low sperm count, diarrhea, birth defects and still births.
Not right, right?
But, there is a solution: Use your American dollar to demand improved working conditions for these laborers and buy organic flowers.
Increased demand for organic flowers that are grown in suitable working environments by adult laborers could lessen adverse environmental and health impacts suffered by many cut flower laborers. Recently, Europe has created a demand for organic cut flowers and, as a result, more sustainable farming and flower production practices are developing in major flower producing provinces. So far, however, the U.S., which imports one-third of its cut flowers from Ecuador alone, has not demonstrated any substantial demand for organic cut flowers or called for better working conditions for the laborers who produce the beautiful flowers that Americans treasure.
In the case of Ecuadorean and Columbian cut flowers, which grow easily in the Andean climate, demand trumps supply. If the American people follow the Europeans’ lead in demanding organic, fair trade flowers, and don’t mind paying an extra or dollar or so a dozen, then a shift toward a less “bloody” and a more sustainable future might exist for the people involved in the production of the beautiful flowers that have come to represent a token of affection to most Americans.
Today: Pass this information along to a friend, lover, colleague or stranger in the grocery store.
This Week: Buy your special someone organic, fair trade Valentine’s flowers (and chocolate!)
This Year: Learn more about the production issues surrounding cut flowers and other imported products that you and your family consume regularly.
Oh, and have a Happy, Eco-Friendly Valentine’s Day!!
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