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Everything’s Coming Up Blood Diamonds

More than 175 million roses are sold in the U.S. in the the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. From seedling to shipping crates, a cocktail of chemicals protects those blooms.

It takes a lot of lethal pesticides to say, “I Love You.”


Seventy percent of cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from countries where pesticide application is not as tightly regulated as it is on U.S. farms. A survey of 8000 workers in cut-flower plantations near Bogotá, Colombia found that workers were exposed to 127 different pesticides, 20% of which are banned in North America because they are considered extremely toxic and carcinogenic. Three of the pesticides are considered “extremely toxic” by the World Health Organization.

Occupational hazard reports range from dizziness and fainting to an epidemic of unexplained sores in greenhouse workers’ mouths. Moreover, the harm caused by chemical exposure appears to be intergenerational: In the March 2006 issue of Pediatrics, Harvard School of Public Health researchers published a study of plantation worker’s children, showing that “prenatal pesticide exposure may adversely affect brain development”, including developmental delays of up to four years.

Philippe Grandjean, who led the Harvard study, cautions, “Every time we look, we’re finding out these pesticides are more dangerous than we ever thought before and more toxic at lower levels.”

If you’re still bent on shelling out $70 for a dozen roses (the average price of a Valentine’s bouquet), consider finding a florist who sources their flowers from sustainable, or VeriFlora-certified, farms.