Whether perched amid the unfinished paperwork on your desk or gracing the center of your dining room table, a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers is a cheerful, inexpensive way to brighten both room and mood. Right?
The cost for that splash of beauty could be higher than you think—and may come at the hefty price of health. Conventionally grown cut flowers, as well as ornamentals such as potted roses and orchids, are subjected to many pesticides during production. While workers in greenhouses and fields are exposed to the most immediate danger, Peg Perreault of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that no guidelines exist for determining levels of pesticide residue on either cut flowers or ornamentals available to consumers. The EPA’s Worker Protection Standard requires such stringent precautions for workers as the use of personal protective equipment, decontamination processes, and restricted re-entry requirements; however, flowers are automatically considered safe once they’ve been harvested and sent to market.
The interval between cutting and marketing of flowers is often less than twenty-four hours—and if the flowers were grown outside the United States, they may have been treated with unregulated or banned pesticides. Some chemicals routinely used in U.S. flower production, such as chlorothalonil and mancozeb, are rated as “likely” and “probable” human carcinogens by the EPA. Methyl bromide, known to cause high acute toxicity and birth defects, is a commonly used fumigant.
Are there alternatives? Absolutely. Instead of toxic chemicals, the natural methods used by organic growers to control garden pests include traps and mechanical controls, water sprays, insecticidal soap, diatomaceous earth, and various biological controls such as the addition to garden environments of predatory and parasitic insects, bacteria, and viruses. Chet Anderson, owner of the Fresh Herb Company in Boulder, Colorado, has been growing flowers organically for two decades. His twenty acres of certified organic soil produce between fifty and sixty varieties each year, including lilies grown in greenhouses.
“If you’re concerned about possible residue,” advises Anderson, “buy local and buy specialty. Specialty cut flowers—pretty much anything other than roses, carnations, mums, and gladiolas—are less likely to be grown in greenhouse settings.”
While flowers may or may not carry labels identifying them as organically grown, Anderson suggests that buying from local farms and farmer’s markets increases the likelihood of enjoying flowers free of pesticides.
For more information, visit the Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides.