How much do those St Valentine's day flowers cost ? Ethiopia, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador count their costs in health and shortened lives
The National Geographic has a news item today complete with a very unpleasant video (2mn.20 sec. - must see) extolling the floriculture of Ethiopia, one of the fastest growing industries in the country.
The Government makes land available and banks provide loans - but omit to mention that most growers (many iof them Dutch /Ethiopian partnerships ) are the result of fleeing floriculturists from Kenya in the last 2/3 years , looking for lower wage costs, cheaper land and free from the grossest political interference and corruption).
The video (still pic) also shows how such flowers are sold for export but also in a gross and insensitive piece of commercial colonialism locally in flower shops in Addis Abbaba - this in a country with GDP per capita of US$756 and a The UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) ranking of 170 out of 177 countries.
The VSO describes the country ..."Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world with 44% of the population living below the national poverty line. Income per head is only $100 per annum, and the standards of health and education are significantly worse than the average for sub Saharan Africa."
This is also where Dow chemicals ship chlorpyrifos and profenofos, organophosporous compunds used as insecticides which inhibits acetylcholinesterase.
Introduced by Dow in 1965 and sold as Dursban and Lorsban, at one time it was one of the most widely used household pesticides in the US .The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of this pesticide for all non-agricultural purposes in the US in 2000.
In 1995, DowElanco was fined $732,000 (Dow Elanco was ajoint Dow / Lilly comopany) for not sending the EPA reports it had received on 249 Dursban poisoning incidents, and in 2003, Dow agreed to pay $2 million - the largest penalty ever in a pesticide case - to the state of New York, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General to end Dow's illegal advertising of Dursban as "safe".
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently reported on the testing of 9,282 people nationwide for "body burdens" of hazardous or dangerous chemicals. The study found that 93% of the US population has levels of chlorpyrifos metabolites, or breakdown products, in their bodies. The average tested child aged 6-11 was found to have exposure to the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos at four times the level the US Environmental Protection Agency considers acceptable for long-term exposure. One market analysis - Posted December 19th, 2007 (Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability by the Pesticide Action Network North America) (PANNA) concluded that Dow Chemical was likely to have contributed at least 80% of the chlorpyrifos exposure in the United States. Although all residential uses of chlorpyrifos were phased out beginning in 2000, agricultural and industrial uses are still allowed
(Dow also fed Dursban to inmates at Clinton Correctional Institute in New York State in 1972 to assess its effects, a type of study that is now illegal in the United States. )
Dow Chemical's CEO and Trustee of Tufts University Andrew Liveris told a group of students in August 2007 "We do not market Dursban (chlorpyrifos) for home use abroad." However Dow's own European Web site states: "Chlorpyrifos ... is used in and around tens of millions of homes worldwide each year."
Liveris failed to mention that only a few weeks ago Dow settled with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for $325,000 for bribing Indian officials from 1996 to 2001 to register pesticides including Dursban, the pesticide which he so ardently defended.
In India, Dow claims Dursban is safe for people, and its sales literature claimed Dursban has "an established record of safety regarding humans and pets."
Curiously the National Geographic last February (St Valentine's time again) pointed readers to "Rose Art thou sick ?" in Green Guide.
The article highlighted the over-fumigating with toxic pesticides in Central and Latin American flower farms, where protective equipment scarce and exposed workers risk getting asthma. In Ecuador, 35 out of 72 children tested by the Harvard School of Public Health had been exposed to organophosphate pesticides in the womb while their mothers worked for flower companies. These children showed both higher blood pressure and poorer spatial ability than children without prenatal exposures.
They quoted Elizabeth Guillette, Ph.D., an anthropologist at the University of Florida"Exposures to very small amounts [of pesticides] can result in huge changes in the ability to learn," who has studied children in a pesticide-ridden community in Mexico. Guillette notes that other dire consequences from maternal exposures include increased numbers of stillbirths and deaths within a month after birth. And prenatal exposure to the organosphosphate chlorpyrifos has been linked with low birth weights and smaller head circumferences by researchers at Mount Sinai and Dr. Frederica Perera at Columbia University.
Guillette says..."All of these cut flowers and plants are heavily treated with pesticides, it's important to avoid touching the blossoms and to handle them as little as possible, and then be sure to wash your hands."
The UK alone will take 10,000 tons of roses for St. Valentine's day. That's an awful lot of organophosphorous pesticides to wash away. According to the Flowers and Plants Association, the UK, along with Germany, is the top importer of cut flowers in the world. The UK fresh cut flower and indoor plant market is worth £2.2 billion at retail level. To put this in perspective, the UK music industry is worth around £2 billion.
It would be interesting to ask Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's, Morrison's, Waitrose etc., there company policies on the use of organophosphorous compounds in flowers supplied from third world countries, what tests they undertake, by whom, where and what the results are.
UPDATE Feb 13th 11.30 GMT Is Valentine's Day just a big bunch of trouble? Daily Telegraph
Just how ethical is your Valentine's Day bouquet? Helen Birch looks behind the fragrant façade of the global flower trade and finds that everything is far from rosy