Skip to main content

After receiving a number of hideous macaroni necklaces from my siblings and I, my mother, who obliged us any other day, let us off the hook on the second Sunday of May.

Not all mothers are like mine, though, which is why Mother's Day has long been open season for florists to prey upon guilty offspring. But are flowers - linked to an industry known for its heavy pesticide use and labour violations - a conscientious choice for expressing heartfelt mother worship?

"Flowers today may be better travelled than the people who buy them," says Amy Stewart, author of Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers (Algonquin Books).

Story continues below advertisement

Which means the carbon footprint of blooms being trucked some 4,500 kilometres to get to your mother's house isn't helping to reduce greenhouse gases. And, according to the World Resources Institute, growers in developing countries often use banned and unregistered pesticides (accounting for up to one-fifth of pesticide use worldwide), along with synthetic growth hormones and fertilizers (to meet the high aesthetic standards of the North American market and to kill any insects wanting to hitch a ride).

The monster flower industry, which as Ms. Stewart notes pulls in $40-billion (U.S.) a year worldwide, is a dirty, pretty thing. If we're to believe fiction, the gloomy but spirited film Maria Full of Grace depicts a pregnant heroine who, given a choice between being a drug mule or a Colombian flower-farm worker, opts to swallow latex fingers full of heroin over a life of stripping thorns from pesticide-saturated rose stems.

Not such a leap considering the research of Philippe Grandjean, an adjunct professor at Harvard School of Public Health. After studying female workers and their children in Ecuador's flower industry, Prof. Grandjean concluded that prenatal pesticide exposure "adversely affects brain development."

On a simple drawing test, Prof. Grandjean discovered that children whose mothers worked in the greenhouses during pregnancy couldn't keep up with children whose mothers weren't exposed.

Still, the toxicity of flown-in flowers doesn't directly affect the consumer. "Because they are not something we would eat," says horticulture specialist Marie-Pierre Mignault of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, "we have no regulations for pesticides on imported flowers."

But unlike the food industry (where we're willing to accept ugly but honest produce), "local organic" is not a viable alternative at the moment, says Theo Blom, associate professor at the University of Guelph's department of plant agriculture. "Canadian growers have come a long way in terms of more environmentally friendly production of cut flowers," Prof. Blom says.

But, he admits, "there is still very little large-scale production of 'certified' organic flowers in Ontario and Canada."

Story continues below advertisement

If you're looking to assuage the double guilt, Ms. Stewart offers an eco-friendly option for this Mother's Day at http://www.sierraeco.com, from Canada's Sierra Flower Trading.

"They've rolled out a program called Sierra Eco that certifies farms based on a set of strong environmental and labour practices. Anyone can go to their website and search for a florist that sells these certified flowers."

Failing that, there's always the macaroni necklace. It could signal the beginning of the end for one of the most successful commercial holidays around.

Heidi Sopinka, a seasoned world traveller, now agrees to stay put until the afterlife in order to neutralize her carbon footprint.

hsopinka@globeandmail.com

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies