Just as it wouldn’t be Christmas without pudding, it wouldn’t be Valentine's Day without flowers. With such a range to choose from, the difficulty of keeping them looking good and the mystery around where they are grown, buying a bunch can be a minefield.
Flowers and chemicals
The industry is highly dependent on getting perfect, blemish-free products on the market quickly. While data on the use of agrochemicals is rare, the industry uses a wide range including pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers to achieve this. “There are a number of chemicals registered in Australia to treat cut flowers. Most of these are dips or fumigants,” says Simon Cubit, spokesperson for the regulatory body, Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (AVPMA).
However, as flowers are not a food crop, there are no Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) like those that exist for fruits and vegetables. According to Cubit, MRLs only apply to consumable products.
Many of our imported flowers come from countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Kenya, India and China. Globally banned pesticides, such as DDT, may still be used in some countries and questionable application methods have been reported, resulting in exposure-related health problems for workers.
Imported flowers may also be fumigated on entering Australia for quarantine purposes. “If imported flowers are treated (fumigated/dipped) in Australia, then only Australian-registered chemicals approved for that purpose can be used,” says Mr Cubit. “Once treated, it is unlikely they would be tested for residue levels before entering the market.”
How can you tell if they are imported or locally grown?
The most you can do is ask the florist – and during peak seasonal demand flowers are only sourced from overseas to supplement Australian-grown stock. At present, cut flowers do not need to have country of origin labelling so there is really no other way to know if they came from down the road or overseas. Read Christopher Zinn's blog on this topic.
Considering all this, the important question is whether consumers should be concerned. According to Mr Cubit, provided chemical label instructions are followed, any risk through contact should be negligible. Still, makes you think twice before stopping to smell the roses.
What can you do?
- Buy organic flowers.
- Buy local flowers to ensure it hasn’t gone through quarantine fumigation – ask your florist.
- Grow your own.
Prices not so rosy
Roses are the floral symbol of Valentine's Day, but due to increased demand the prices can be less than rosy. Timing is crucial for farmers in ensuring they get a perfect rose to you at the store. Roses flower every 12 weeks and the timing needs to be precise to produce the perfect bloom. In order for this to happen, farmers have to sacrifice a crop, meaning you will pay around 100% more for a rose during the week leading up to Valentines Day.