Flowers are pretty, but at what cost?
If one buys a bouquet for Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day, there is a 70 percent chance it came from the savanna in Bogata, Colombia. It’s no secret that imported products often exact a toll on the people who make them and on the environments where they are made. A 1981 survey of almost 9,000 flower workers found that the work had exposed them to as many as 127 different chemicals, mostly fungicides and pesticides.
Unfortunately, cut flower growers are suspected of using pesticides that are toxic to bees.
A 1990 Colombia’s National Institute of Health (NIH) study suggested that pregnant Colombian flower workers exposed to pesticides raised concerns about miscarriages, premature births and congenital defects.
From the beginning, many job-seekers in the Colombia savanna were single mothers making the minimum wage, who reported sexual harassment, worked long hours without breaks, and had stress injuries with no employer-provided treatment or time off. As recently as 1994, a Colombian sociologist found children working in greenhouses on Saturdays, and working 46-hour weeks in many areas on the farms.
In 1996, Colombia began a series of initiatives to eliminate child labor, and farms belonging to the flower exporters association have moved to replace the more hazardous classes of agricultural chemicals,
In 1991, the U.S. government suspended import duties on Colombian flowers, with disastrous results for U.S. growers.
Not long ago, Americans got flowers from neighborhood florists, who bought blooms grown on U.S. farms, crafted bouquets and made arrangements to order. They still do, but the bouquets that many Americans buy, typically at supermarkets, are grown, assembled and packaged overseas.
To avoid this concern, we can grow our own flowers from organic, untreated seeds.
Also, we can we can choose indoor and outdoor plants instead of, or in addition to, bouquets.
Finally, we can consider the social contexts and sources of flowers before we buy them for Mother’s and Valentine’s Days.