Before You Take A Big Whiff of Those Valentine's Day Roses

A rose by any other name...might be less toxic. Especially if it's, say, a tulip. Something most of us have probably never thought about before is becoming an increasing health concern.

Valentine's Day is a cash cow for retailers, who mark it as the third most profitable retail season of the year, behind only Christmas and back-to-school shopping. Consider these facts:

Americans will spend between $14 and $17 billion dollars for the 2007 Valentine's Day holiday on cards, restaurants, candy and flowers. In flowers alone, this translates to 189 million stems of roses.

Not surprisingly, men spend more than women, shelling out an average of $156.22. Men between 24 and 35 average $164.32, while women spend $85.08. I actually thought this last number sounded a bit inflated, until I realized that women are far more likely to also buy Valentine's Day cards and presents for family members and friends, as well as their partners.

While consumers are plunging into Valentine's Day en masse, a new Harvard study asks Americans to think about what those flowers, in particular, actually mean. In the United States, a huge portion of our flowers are imported from Colombia. The rose-friendly climate that allows the stems to flourish is also a natural breeding ground for pests and fungus.

Since U.S. regulations require imported flora, fauna, and produce to be free of these things, what comes attached instead are some serious chemical components. Unlike produce, imported flowers are not required to be below certain levels of chemical contamination. The World Health Organization states that, in 2005, 36% of chemicals sprayed on the Columbian flowers were classified as "highly" or "extremely" toxic.

For consumers, this poses a couple of questions. The first, is there any risk to sending these flowers (which recipients will no doubt inhale deeply from), particularly to people with immune or respiratory issues? For socially concerned consumers, what is the cost to both the environment and human workers within the Colombian flower industry?

But all is not lost for those who expect to give and receive flowers this Valentine's Day. The California flower industry is an enormous national producer, and American flower farms are subject to incredibly strict regulation. Organic flowers are another option, and the Organic Trade Association estimates a whopping 50% growth in demand for organic flowers each year.

What this really means is that, if you forget Valentine's Day and wind up standing in line at a crowded restaurant waiting to be seated, play up the social justice issue. Play up the concern for your love's health. At least it will give you and your love something to talk about until the hostess finally calls your name.


Aspeth said...

Big Kudos to smarty-pants reader "Daniel", who caught some *ignorant* typos in this post.

Lessons for the day: slow down the fingers as I type, and scale back the notion that my proofreading abilities are infallible.