Roses May Contain Risky Levels of Pesticides
(Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News)

By Margot Higgins, Environmental News Network, Sun Valley, Idaho


Feb. 14--You might want to think twice before serenading your lover with a rose between your lips on Valentine's Day.

According to a number of recent studies, roses can contain up to 50 times the amount of pesticides that are legally allowed on the food we eat.

A 1997 report by the Environmental Working Group found that commercially grown roses contained 1,000 times the amount of cancer causing pesticides when compared with food products.

But the news should not prevent you from appreciating the newly arrived flowers on your desk, at least one environmentalist claims.

"The new environmental message is to sanitize everything in our lives," said Marion Moses, founder of the Pesticide Education Center in San Francisco. "I think this is pretty trivial from a public health standpoint."

The real concern that Moses and many environmental groups share is for the people that grow and handle flowers that are drenched in pesticide.

Florists hope to sell more than 100 million roses along with countless other cut flowers over the Valentine's Day holiday, accounting for 15 percent of their annual sales. Many of those flowers will be grown in poor countries where pesticide regulations are not as stringent as they are in the United States. Since flower crops can earn five times the amount of fruit crops, they have an increasing presence in the developing world.

The United States receives about 64 percent of its imported cut flowers from Colombia. There, flower workers, most of whom are women, suffer the most from the industry's heavy pesticide use. Two-thirds of Colombian flower workers experience headaches, nausea, impairedvision, rashes and asthma, according to the Pesticide Action Network of North America.

"There are no limits on the amount of pesticide residues on these plants," said Richard Wiles, vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group. "The result is a highly toxic workplace and a highly toxic rose."

The Pesticide Action Network analyzed reported poisonings in the flower industry in California between 1991 and 1996. In San Mateo County, 23 percent of all pesticide poisonings recorded were from the cut flower industry, notes staff scientist Margaret Reeves. In Marin County, 91 percent of all pesticide poisonings came from roses.

"There is much more serious exposure to workers than people who buy the flowers," Reeves said.

Environmentalists are urging people to consider buying organic bouquets on Valentine's day. While flowers are not included in the current U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations for "organic", pesticide-free flowers are beginning to be cultivated around the country.

PelicanNetwork has been in the business for two years, relying on three local organic growers to fill his Valentine's day orders.

"People buy our flowers because they like the message," PelicanNetwork said. "Unlike conventionally grown flowers, our flowers are not harmful to your loved ones, nor to nature. No poisons, no insectides, no pesticides. Grown the way nature likes." -----

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Margot Higgins, Environmental News Network, Sun Valley, Idaho, Roses May Contain Risky Levels of Pesticides. , Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News,



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