The Toxicity of a 21st Century...Rose

A rose in its most natural form, quite beautiful and fragrant, is not the rose inspiring this posting. The 21st century rose, grown in chemically intensified environments to meet the demands of the western world in celebration of holidays, times when the local sources are out of supply, contain unsuspecting toxins that I wanted to learn more about. As additional controversies surrounding international floriculture surfaced through my search, I became immediately inspired to initiate a discussion about organic vs. conventional farming, hidden costs of chemical pesticides and the virtual water trade.

Although California supplies about a quarter of all cut flowers sold in the United States. Most US imported flowers are roses to meet the needs for peak seasonal demand. This provides a market for the floriculture industry concentrated along the equator, throughout the third world: Columbia, Holland, Costa Rica, Ecuador, China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Despite being a lucrative business for the residing countries and farm owners (Ecuador alone had 350 million in revenue from rose exports in 2007), the floriculture industry has many deleterious contributions they do not financially compensate for. Most worrisome of their contributions is the wide array of chemical pesticides they supplement their roses with. Because flowers are an agricultural commodity, they undergo scrutinous inspections for bioburden when imported by USDA's Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS). However, because ornamental horticulture crops are not harvested as food or used for any subsequent food processing, they are not held subject to as strict inspections as edible horticulture crops for chemical residue. Read more about this on USDA’s Floriculture Crops briefing archive.

You may be asking yourself, why does this matter? You may even agree that if you do not consume the flower, you will not be harmed. I’ll try to let you be the judge.

Chemicals involved in the lifespan of a foreign-grown rose include fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, nematocides and plant growth regulators. Information on the specific chemicals that are used I have found difficult to obtain because documentation is not required by governmental agencies, like the USDA, because roses are a non-edible good. However, many countries use chemicals banned in most of the countries the flowers are being imported to. Three of the most hazardous chemicals used are Methyl bromide (CH3Br), one of the fiercest ozone depleters, dieldrin, and chloropicrin as they are halogenated, organically soluble and bioacumulative, persistent in their lifespan, and volatile. This means any residual CH3Br, dieldrin, or chloropicrin can be whiffed up into your, or more likely your sweetheart’s nose, and can reside in your adipose tissue throughout your lifespan. Unless, of course, you plan on having children. I’ll leave the discussion of chemical bioaccumulation for a future article opportunity.

Click on the respective links to view toxicity information on Methyl Bromide, Dieldrin and chloropicrin to form your own opinion on weather or not you want to financially support their usage in the flower industry.

Why are these chemicals necessary? As an urban organic gardener myself, my immediate response is that they are not. However, I understand the realism of the effects of capitalism: if it is legal and lucrative, someone will take advantage of the opportunity without regard to morality or ethics. (This is where I remind myself I am writing for a science blog, and this is not a time for political diatribes). Many ornamental foliage plants do not tolerate freezing temperatures and often require very specific conditions for growth: controlled temperature, humidity, and nutrient soils. These conditions are also permitting to insects and bacterial growth, and thus disease. Roses in large-scale production are mostly grown inside greenhouses or enclosed spaces where environments can be managed. Chemicals are added to aid in the preservation of the visually pristine rose by providing an environment free from biological contaminants. Although many American greenhouses contain automated ventilation to prevent worker exposure to the pesticides and chemical additives, it is often deemed too expensive and too often there are no lawful obligations for workers rights in foreign countries.

The heavy pesticide usage is not the only controversy with the globalization of flower production. Water quality, availability, land use, and workers rights are all notably burdened by the international floriculture industry. In addition to the chemical exposure, many workers are not granted job security, heath care, nor do they earn livable wages. Due to limited water availability, many workers involved in chemical handling spread exposure to chemicals because they cannot shower before coming in contact with their communities. Pesticide residues in Columbia and Costa Rica are directly discharged into waterways and runoff ends up in groundwater and aquifer recharge areas for local drinking water. Flowers are 3/4ths water, and because this resource is indirectly exported along with the flower, local water sources are diminished over time. Because flowers are a water-intensive crop, the diminishment of local water sources is also do to the amount of wastewater created throughout their production. The wildlife within Kenya’s Lake Naivasha, including over 350 recorded species of birds, have suffered from extreme drought due to the virtual water trade. Utilizing finite resources for rose farming takes away from local food production opportunities by increasing competition over available water and cropland.

I have only begun to touch on the destructive effects of this industry on the health of our planet. But, like always, it just takes a minority to ruin a good thing. Be part of the solution by choosing earth-sustainable choices. Growing your own? Learn about methods to reduce and replace pesticide use by incorporating Integrated Pest Management skills from UC Davis’s Department of Environmental Horticulture . Another sustainable option is to buy local and organic. The Here and Now garden was the 1st commercial organic and biodynamic flower farm in the US, located in Gayle creek Oregon. Paul Sansone, the founder of Here and Now garden explains that "compost is the key element…You're growing soil, not plants." Bent Oak Farms is now operating and expanding the nursery. Paul Sansone offers his secrets for growing biodynamic flowers on www.organicbouquet.com.

If you must send your sweetie imported roses, show them your commitment to social justice and environmental sustainability by ordering FLP certified flowers . 42 of the 56 worldwide flower farms FLP certified reside in Ecuador. Watch this video about how one environmentally conscious Ecuadorian rose farm, Navado Roses , recycles their water, compost non-exported plant materials with natural fertilizers, deploys spiders and ladybugs to manage pests, and utilizes chamomile, chili and garlic spray as natural pesticides.

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1 comment:

  1. This is my first experience with web posting, and i've noticed that none of the links are working. It will take me awhile to fix this, but I thought I would go ahead and post the content, otherwise it will take me another week. - C