The Dark Side of Valentines Day

Millions of Americans celebrate love and friendship on Valentine’s Day by buying their loved ones flowers. But there is a thorny side to the holiday, as thousands of foreign flower workers are subjected to unhealthy working conditions as they prepare to send flower shipments abroad.

According to Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), millions of roses are exported from greenhouses Latin America and Europe each year. The problem is that conditions in these greenhouses are both “unsustainable” and “unhealthy,” she said in the NRDC’s Switchboard blog.

According to Sass, greenhouse workers are required to frequently handle pesticide-treated plants. In fact, she said, roses often are grown with over 30 different pesticides, including some that are in the same chemical class as the nerve gas sarin.

“And the ventilation in these greenhouses – which are designed to hold in the hot air – can be described as poor, at best,” she remarked. “These conditions make for a very unhealthy workplace – one that is primarily filled with women of reproductive age.”

Several studies have pointed out that greenhouse workers routinely complain of headaches, blurred vision and other pesticide-associated symptoms. Additionally, a recently released Danish study revealed that sons of women occupationally exposed to pesticides during pregnancy were three times more likely to be born with reproductive birth defects.

While this data may give the holiday a pessimistic tone, people still can demonstrate their love for that special someone on Valentine’s Day by avoiding flowers that can compromise workers’ health. According to Sass, NRDC has some a list of alternate Valentine’s Day gift choices:

  • Buy organic or local flowers. Flowers from a local greenhouse or farm are fresher and more environmentally friendly than those shipped, flown and trucked into the United States from Latin America or Europe.
  • Make dinner for your sweetheart. Make a home-cooked meal from the heart with local or organic produce from a neighborhood grocery store. If cooking isn’t a forte, take him or her out to a restaurant that focuses on local, seasonal, sustainable or vegetarian foods.
  • Buy local wine. A U.S.-grown wine that’s either biodynamic or organic doesn’t cost much more than imported wines. In addition, organic wines are made without added sulfites, which makes them a friendly choice for people who suffer asthma or allergies.
  • Get an organic couple’s massage or spa treatment. Many big city spas have organic or all-natural treatment options, so this is the perfect opportunity to try them out.
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