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Happy Valentines Day, But Think Twice About the Roses You Send
(from February 14, 2003)

While sending roses to your special someone might seem like second nature on Valentine's Day, you may want to stop and think about how the flowers are grown. The February 13, 2003 edition of The New York Times reported that many of the roses reaching the U.S. marketplace were grown in a toxic mixture of insecticides and fungicides by poor workers in Ecuadorian greenhouses.

The long days, high altitude and volcanic soils of the Ecuadorian Andes help growers to produce about 650 million roses each year for sale in the United States. But the country's leading industry comes at a price. According to the International Labor Organization, women in the rose industry had more miscarriages than average and that more than 60 percent of all workers suffered headaches, nausea, blurred vision or fatigue. Nearly 70% of the 50,000 rose workers are women.

Because little has been done to study the link between greenhouse workers in Ecuador and their health problems, the industry has had little backlash. "No one can speak with conclusive facts in hand about the impact of this industry on the health of the workers, because we have not been able to do the necessary studies," Dr. Bolívar Vera, a health specialist at the Health Environment and Development Foundation in Quito, told The New York Times. So the companies have been able to wash their hands of the matter."

A small sample of roses analyzed by Mother Jones magazine, found the following pesticide residues on the flowers: organophosphate- Dimethoate, carbamate- Aldicarb, organochlorines- Captan, Bravo, Tedion, Iprodione, Procymidone.

Not all of Ecuador's greenhouses are exposing their workers to harmful pesticides. Hernan Chiriboga, owner of the company BioGarden, converted his company to organic after he was approached by Gerald Prolman, co-founder of Organic Bouquet in Novato, CA. According to Mother Jones magazine, Mr. Prolman had been searching for a source of organic roses for two years. Mr. Chiriboga was already growing his roses without pesticides, in response to European demand, and switched to organic fertilizers to go fully organic.

Some of America's biggest green retailers seem to think that Prolman might be onto something. Organic Bouquet has signed small deals with eco-friendly supermarket chains such as Wild Oats, Trader Joe's and the Southern Californian division of Whole Foods. You can buy organic roses and tulips through the Organic Bouquet website at www.organicbouquet.com.