(Beyond Pesticides, February 5, 2008) Whether you love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is less than ten days away. Millions of flowers and chocolates will soon be bought and given to loved ones. Unfortunately, these gifts come at a cost much higher than the one on the price tag. Conventional roses and chocolate sold in the United States are produced using toxic pesticides, with little regard for the workers or the environment.The United States imports about 70 percent of its flowers from foreign countries, mostly from Ecuador and Columbia. Roses analyzed in the past few years were found to contain a myriad of harmful pesticides that ranged from organophosphates such as Dimethoate, carbamate- Aldicarb, to organochlorines like Captan, Bravo, Tedion, Iprodione and Procymidone.
Organophosphates are considered to be the most likely pesticide to cause an acute poisoning. They are a highly toxic class of pesticides that affect the central nervous, cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Symptoms of exposure include: numbness, tingling sensations, headache, dizziness, tremors, nausea, abdominal cramps, sweating, incoordination, blurred vision, difficulty breathing, slow heartbeat, unconsciousness, incontinence, convulsions and fatality. Some organophosphates have been linked to birth defects and cancer. Organochlorines are known estrogenic pesticides and have been linked to cancer. They also have been found to cause immunotoxicity and neurotoxicity.
Such heavy use of pesticides means that workers are coming in contact with them daily. Furthermore, the roses are grown in greenhouses that contain the pesticides and prevent proper ventilation, making it even more dangerous. Workers are also not given proper protection when working with the pesticides so they become particularly vulnerable. 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.
Chocolate faces a similar set of problems. Chocolate is conventionally grown in the sun. Since the canopy of shade that controls pests and weeds naturally is often destroyed to make way for sun grown crops like cocoa and coffee, the use of toxic pesticides is prevalent. EPA allows certain levels of pesticides to be present in non-organic chocolate imported to the U.S. These pesticides include: Methyl Bromide, Pyrethrins, Hydrogen Cyanide, Naled, and Glyphosate.
The chocolate industry has been accused of using forced child labor to harvest the cocoa in West Africa. Companies like Nestle, Archer Daniels Midland, and Cargill have been charged with using cocoa producers that trafficked children from Mali into the Ivory Coast and forced them to work inhumane hours with no pay, little food and sleep, and frequent beatings. On top of all these horrors, the children, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of toxic pesticides due to their age and stages of physical development, are being involuntarily exposed to toxic pesticides, some of which are banned in the United States.
This Valentine’s Day, show your love for not only your friends and family, but also the earth and the global community. Buy organic and fair trade flowers and chocolate, both of which are more readily available than ever. Here are some resources of suppliers of organic flowers and chocolates:
If you don’t have access to organic flowers or chocolate, try other creative ways of expressing your love. A homemade card or picture collage, a poem, or a special homemade dinner are all ways to show someone you care while doing minimal harm to the environment and society. Happy Valentine’s Day!