How pesticides have caused havoc in the food industry is already well known. The awareness and consumption of organic food has grown steadily in the past decade, with communities demanding increased regulations and pesticide checks. World over authorities have responded with stringent measures to prevent contamination of food products by toxic chemicals. Environmentalists however have expressed dismay over the complete lack of such regulations to regulate toxicity related to chemicals used in the flower industry.

Consider the example of Colombia, at first glace Colombia´s flower sector is a huge success story. In 25 years a handful of flower farms has blossomed into an industry with 450 companies, making Colombia the world´s second largest flower exporter after the Netherlands. Britain is the largest single market in Europe for Colombia´s flowers. British consumers buy more than half of their carnations about 33 million from Colombia. But there is a dark side to the flower sector´s success. To ensure that the flowers are not rejected by importing countries, Colombian flower farmers douse the plants in pesticides to prevent any disease or blemish. The result is poisoned workers, contaminated water and parched soil.

Here are some facts

  • Flowers consume more pesticides than any other agricultural products
  • Flowers are voraciuos. Their thirst for water is prodigious.

Just as flower cultivation is harsh on the environment, so is it unsparing on the majority of Colombia´s estimated 75,000 flower workers. Most, about 70 per cent, are women who earn just (US) 58 cents an hour. They toil up to 60 hours a week, often without full overtime pay, before special occasions like Mother´s Day and Valentine´s Day.

The workers suffer from a myriad of health problems. Their ailments are linked to exposure to the pesticide cocktails that are frequently applied to guarantee beautiful, pest-free blooms. Many workers are forced to re-enter greenhouses only one or two hours after they are sprayed.Look into our references page for more information on work culture and workers´ health and safety in Colombia and other countries.

However that doesn´t mean the roses cultivated in the United States are any safer though.Here, the control and monitoring of chemical substances used in the production of both cut flowers and ornamentals is at the discretion of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA´s human involvement, however, is limited to safety issues for growers and workers, and it does not address possible dangers from residues on flower products passed on to consumers.

In 1998, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed eight rose samples purchased from retailers or by phone in an unpublished study. EWG researchers detected a dozen different pesticides in their tests, including two that are listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as probable carcinogens.One of those pesticides was detected in a sample at a level 50 times higher than the amount allowed in food, according to Richard Wiles, vice president for research at EWG. "There's a fair amount of pesticides on roses, whether they come from Colombia or California, " Wiles says.