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This Valentine’s Day, Know Where Your Flowers Come From

Do you know where your Valentine's Day bouquet came from? Most supermarket flowers have a thorny history.

A bouquet of pink roses wrapped in plastic marked with the Fairtrade logo.

Photo: Flickrich (Flickr)

Buying Fairtrade-certified flowers ensures your bouquet came from a farm that respects its laborers.

St. Valentine’s Day is upon us. But before you run out to buy a bouquet for your beloved, you might take note of some potential ethical concerns surrounding cultivated flowers, and some ways to make sure the flowers you buy are good for the planet and for the people who grow them.

Carbon Flower-Print

83 percent of the world’s cut flowers are grown in the Netherlands, Colombia, Ecuador and Kenya. 73 percent of the world’s cut flowers are imported by the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and France.

Here in the U.S., most of our flowers come from Colombia. This means your average bouquet of roses, tulips or petunias racks up jet-setter airmiles, leaving behind a significant carbon footprint.

But the environmental impact of cut flowers goes beyond travel. Fertilization, watering, refrigeration, and the methane released after flowers have been binned for storage and transportation all take a toll as well.

The True Cost Of Kenyan Flowers

In 2008, Food and Water Watch teamed up with The Council of Canadians to do a report on the conditions of Lake Naivasha, the site of most of Kenya’s flower farms.

According to the report, not only are rose plantations siphoning water off the lake at unsustainable rates, but polluted runoff is also damaging the watershed.

Meanwhile, locals face food shortages, overcrowding and the many maladies associated with poor sanitation and ecological degradation.

Labor Conditions: Not Exactly Rosy

In 2005, the World Health Organization rated more than a third of chemicals used in Colombian flower farms as either “extremely” or “highly” toxic.

The International Labor Rights Forum reports that over 50 percent of flower farm employees in Colombia and Ecuador have suffered rashes, eye problems, respiratory problems, or miscarriages following prolonged exposure to these substances.

The Forum also reports high rates of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and forced pregnancy testing of female employees, who make up 65 percent of the flower industry’s workforce in Colombia and 50 percent of the workforce in Ecuador.

Don’t Trust Florverde

Many flowers exported form Colombia are sold under the “Florverde” label, which claims to be “good for the earth, good for the workers, good for you.”

The International Labor Rights Forum, however, reports that the Florverde–an initiative of the Colombian Flower Exporters Association–funnels its revenues not into improving workplace conditions, but into defending Colombia’s Free Trade agreement with the United States and into marketing Colombian flowers in the U.S.

What To Do?

If you want to buy fresh cut flowers for Valentine’s Day, here are a few recommendations:

  • Approach local florists and find out if they source any local, greenhouse-grown flowers.
  • Click the “flowers” link on LocalHarvest for information on how to order US-grown organic flowers over the internet.
  • Buy Fairtrade certified flowers, labelled with the Fairtrade logo.

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Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon has been interested in food ethics since she was 15, learned about industrial slaughter, and launched into 10 years of vegetarianism. These days, she strives to be a conscientious omnivore. Now a PhD candidate in folklore, her research has caused her to spend a lot of time in the remote Canadian sub-arctic, where the lake trout (sustainably harvested) tastes amazing.

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