An equitable bouquet

Photo: istockphoto.com/slobo mitic
Nothing completes a special occasion like flowers. But you just might be giving more than pretty petals with the typical commercial bouquet. Toxic blooms The majority of fresh-cut flowers in North America are imported from Columbia and Ecuador, where pesticide laws are fairly lax. Imperfect flowers don't sell so most greenhouses use a toxic mix of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, 20 percent of which are banned in North America. A typical florist bouquet can have 100 times the pesticide residue than on fruits or vegetables. Most contain the insecticide chlorpyrifos (side effects include long-term neurological damage, blurred vision and headaches) as well as the herbicide methyl bromide (side effects include headaches, dizziness and vomiting). Blood flowers Ironically most of the workers at these toxic greenhouses are single mothers, forced to work long hours with little protective gear. During peak holidays (like Mother's Day) a typical workday is 20 hours long and most of the flower workers will be forced to remain in the greenhouse while it's being fumigated. Many suffer from work-related health problems, including headaches, nausea, impaired vision, conjunctivitis, rashes, asthma, stillbirths, miscarriages, congenital malformations and respiratory and neurological problems. In Ecuador, child labour is also a problem and there is a whole generation of children permanently disabled from being exposed to the toxic bouquets. Equitable bouquets For some in the flower industry, jeopardizing the future of young women and children along with the ecosystem was too high a price to pay for pristine blooms. In 1998 a group of Colombia's flower exporters started up Florverde, an organization dedicated to improving working conditions. In 1999, the Montreal based Sierra Flower Trading, one of the largest distributors of cut flowers in Canada, introduced the Sierra Eco brand, guaranteeing flowers have been harvested from socially and environmentally responsible farms. Their list of Canadian florists offering organic flowers has grown steadily since. For those in the Greater Toronto area, Eco Flora sells wildcrafted, organically grown flowers as well. The U.S. started a similar green flower program in 2003 when Gerald Prolman of Organic Bouquet organized flower distributors and merchants to create the VeriFloraâ„¢ Certified Sustainably Grown label. With support from everyone including the farmers, shippers, distributors and retailers there are now 32 farms in South America and 18 farms in the U.S. certified or about to be certified organic. Say it with earth-friendly flowers.