12 Reasons to Avoid Conventional Flowers This Mother’s Day and 5 Alternative Gift Options

In a little-known Hallmark holiday back-story, the disturbing nature of which rivals even Valentine’s Day, the woman who founded Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, actually spent the last years of her life fighting against its commercialization. In the short nine years that it had existed, for Anna, the day lost its meaning. Obviously, she lost her fight against the day’s commercialization; today Mother’s Day has become one of the most financially successful U.S. holidays. The 500 carnations (her mother’s favorite flower) that Anna delivered to that original service started a tradition that saw Americans spend close to 2 billion dollars on flowers for Mother’s Day last year alone. Two billion dollars on flowers! In an extremely ironic end to her life, it is said that Anna died penniless in a nursing home, her final bills paid for by the Florist’s Exchange.

Adding insult to injury, that two billion dollars on flowers is not only an ostentatious show of commercialism, but the cut flower industry, with approximately 80 percent of cut flowers being imported into the US, contributes to a serious overuse of pesticides. Because flowers are considered a “non-edible,” the restrictions for pesticide use are not as stringent as they are for food items. This amounts to significant problems for human and animal health and as well as water, soil and air. They are especially harmful to the workers who have to apply them; there are even signs of secondary pesticide exposure for the family members who live with these farm workers (think second hand smoke).

The same interest in transitioning industrial acreage to sustainable food farming, we should also think about transitioning the floriculture industries in the U.S. and abroad. Many companies and third party certifiers are working to improve worker protection and reduce dependence on pesticides. There are other things you could buy to celebrate your mom, but if you’re buying her flowers this weekend (yes, Johnny-come-latelies, Mother’s Day is this Sunday!) it is important to seek out these more sustainable options. The major labels to look for are – USDA Organic, Veriflora, TransFair USA and Sierra Eco.

Local, sustainable and/or organic flowers are possible to find, so start looking! And remember the more locally you can purchase them, the better.

Where to get local, sustainable and/or organic flowers?

  • Farmers’ Markets (Find one near you at EatWellGuide.org)
  • Farms/Farm Stands
  • Your yard, a neighborhood lot, a friend’s or family member’s garden

Online options for flower delivery?

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Toxic Strawberry Pesticide Pulled From Sale The US

In a proactive business move, Arysta LifeScience Corporation, the manufacturer of methyl iodide also known as Midas, pulled the controversial pesticide from the shelves on March 20, 2012 due to “economic viability in the U.S. marketplace.” With the majority of the Midas market being in California (88 percent of the domestic strawberry market), the continued attack on the toxic product, and limited use due to strict regulations against application near homes, businesses and schools, the market for Midas was not looking good. The discontinuation of the product went into immediate effect and they were asking farmers to return unused portions.

The suspension of sale was applauded by environmental groups, farmers and individuals who have been actively working for years to ban the product. Originally approved by the EPA in 2007, and  believed to be a good replacement for methyl bromide which was banned in 2005, Midas had never been used heavily due to many concerns from the scientific community from the beginning. And due to California’s own Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) approval process, methyl iodide hadn’t been approved for use in that state until 2010. The pressure to find a replacement for methyl iodide grew as California Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a former organic farmer and assistant director for the California Department of Conservation, Brian Leahy, as the new director of the California DPR. And a new research partnership between the DPR and the California Strawberry Commission was created to look for alternatives to using fumigants – even before methyl iodide was officially pulled from the market. The partnership will dedicate $500,000 over the next three years.

It is interesting that while so many people worked to ban the toxic fumigant – called one of the most toxic chemicals on earth, others worked hard to make it available for sale. From the Arysta’s press release, “Arysta LifeScience Suspends MIDAS in the United States” –

The company would like to express its gratitude to growers, researchers, business partners and supporters who helped MIDAS® achieve U.S. EPA registration and registration in 48 states. LifeScience will continue to support the use of iodomethane outside of the U.S. where it remains economically viable.

With no access to methyl iodide, and methyl bromide being phased out (but accessible under a critical use exemption (CUE) possibly through 2014), farmer’s are looking for a less toxic but effective alternative. From the VCReporter: “Existing alternatives, such as chloropicrin and metam-sodium, have not been as effective as methyl bromide, said Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission. In Ventura County, she said, many growers transitioning away from methyl bromide have found plant diseases they haven’t seen before, which is an obvious threat to the county’s No. 1 agricultural export.”

Transitioning to organic crops are an option, but obviously not a quick fix or something that many farmers feel is viable. Addressed in this article in NewsObserver.com, Dwindling choice of fumigants imperils strawberry profits, “Conventional growers say organic farmers can’t match their volume. Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission, questioned whether there was enough farmland to make strawberry production viable using only organic methods. For one thing, she said, rotation requirements would put land off-limits in some years. Strawberries would no longer be the plentiful and affordable product consumers know now, AmRhein said.”

“Wonder” Chemicals Linked to Alzheimer’s

My Grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s, turned 93 on Valentine’s Day. My grandparents loved fresh, whole foods – they gardened, cooked and bought in bulk to preserve food for the winter.  My grandmother picked blackberries along the sides of roads by their house and they bought peaches from a farmer in the town next to theirs.

When I think about how many unregulated chemicals my grandmother was probably exposed to in her life time, it scares me.

Although she was born in 1918, before the widespread use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers, she lived through the worst starting in the 40s.  It wasn’t until the late 60s that the detrimental effects of pesticides were recognized, although still not strictly regulated.

Now, when I visit my grandmother, I don’t know if she knows who I am. She is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and doesn’t really talk. She needs constant care for everything – day and night. She can’t teach me how to garden or preserve foods, a task she was content to do her whole life. She can’t pass on favorite recipes that she made for my yearly summer visits in Oregon. She can’t answer my quilting questions or help me with my knitting projects. I’ll never know what “wonder” chemicals my grandparents were sold to spray on their own garden with the promise of no pests or disease and more abundant crops and what link there might be to her current state.

The thought that the toxic environment we have created might contribute to neurological disorders in so many people is appalling. It makes me wonder if politicians who approve their continued use have ever personally dealt with a disease like Alzheimer’s. It’s hard to believe that they haven’t. Statistics say that over 5 million people currently have the disease, and it is expected that 10 million baby boomers will die from or with Alzheimer’s.

It was disheartening when last December, ex-Governor Schwarzenegger and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) approved methyl iodide as a soil fumigant pesticide in agriculture. Methyl iodide is linked to miscarriages, thyroid disease and cancer and recent reports suggest that it could also be contributing to an increase in neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s. In 2009 Duke University conducted an Alzheimer’s study on 4000 people over the age of 65 in an agriculture county in Utah.

“After adjusting for age, sex, education, and a gene known to raise the risk of Alzheimer’s, the researchers found that people who worked with pesticides were 53% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.”

In late December a lawsuit was filed to challenge the approval of methyl iodide. In January, Pesticide Action Network, North America (PANNA) delivered over 52,000 signatures to newly-elected Governor Brown, encouraging the administration to reverse the decision.

What surprises me, and what should surprise the 10.9 million unpaid caregivers tending to those stricken with Alzheimer’s, is that the approval happened at all. While there is not yet a clear, direct link between pesticides and Alzheimer’s, given a person with the right genetic disposition and a steady dose of pesticides, why make those risks a reality?

Scientists from around the country are concerned about the use of methyl iodide and other pesticides in agriculture. The California Scientific Review Committee (SRC) called methyl iodide, “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth.” It’s clear that pesticides (and antibiotics, and hormones and genetically modified organisms, etc.) are harming our health and the health of the earth. So, what can we do to avoid these toxins?

Control our food as best we can!

Ask questions of the farmers selling at farmers’ markets. Buy organic when it’s possible. Cook with whole foods and avoid processed and chemical-added foods whenever you can. If you have the space and time, grow your own food. And stay informed through websites such as PANNA and Beyond Pesticides and about the chemicals and pesticides that we interact with every day.

New Toxic Pesticides to Replace Older Ozone Depleting Pesticides

Nothing says summer like strawberries, but before you bite into your next, read this.

Methyl Bromide, a soil fumigant often used on strawberry crops, was phased out in the US by 2005 because it was depleting the ozone layer.  The phase out was based on the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Clean Air Act.

Good news, right? The EPA was acknowledging that yet one more federally-approved chemical was actually causing more harm than good. But I only found out about the banned Methyl Bromide because of the attention recently placed on Methyl Iodide. Approved in 2007, and currently used in many states as a “good” replacement for the banned Methyl Bromide, Methyl Iodide has its own set of problems.

Methyl Iodide is currently under scrutiny as the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) proposes approval of its use. Even though Methyl Iodide is used in many states already, California, which has its own pesticide approval process, has been questioning its safety level for the last year. While Methyl Iodide is not an ozone depleting pesticide like Methyl Bromide, it is extremely toxic to humans, a consistent carcinogenic that is used in the lab by chemists to induce cancer in experimental subjects such as mice. It has also been found to affect the nervous system, lungs, liver and kidneys, and to damage human fetuses.

While an independent review requested by the DPR concluded that “any anticipated scenario for … use of this agent would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health,” the agency is still pushing for its approval, suggesting more stringent regulations than originally spelled out by the EPA.  These tighter regulations include better training in proper application, controlling the amount used, limiting exposure for workers and requiring special permits. They would also include bigger “buffer zones” between fields sprayed with the toxin and local hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and schools.

Though it isn’t looking good, if the California proposal is rejected, it could have a large impact, possibly moving up the next scheduled federal review of Methyl Iodide, now slated for 2013. It could even help lead to a federal ban.

As the revolving doors between industry and the government continue to …revolve, it takes very little digging to unearth a sketchy connection in this situation. In 2007, the year Methyl Iodide was approved by the EPA, Elin Miller, a past employee of Arysta (the company that makes the pesticide), was EPA Administrator for Region 10, which includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington State and 267 Indian Tribes. Methyl Iodide was originally approved for one year, but the probationary time line was extended indefinitely as the Bush administration left office.

In the wake of President Obama’s Cancer Panel report, which found that the “risk of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated,” and links between chemicals and diseases (such as that between pesticides and ADHD) showing up regularly, the DPR’s proposal flies in the face of facts we’ve been privy to for a long time. You can send your comments about the proposal to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation until June 29th at mei_comments@cdpr.ca.gov.

Pesticides: If This Doesn’t Convince You, Nothing Will

I recently read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and was shocked. Published in 1962, it attacked the use of pesticides and read like a story that might have been written today about the detrimental effects of ____ (fill in the blank), a product that hasn’t been properly tested, but is being sold anyway. At the time, pesticides were being used quite extensively dr1and people were starting to see the consequences – dead birds and other animals were obvious casualties of pesticide spraying. Rachel Carson’s book was met with fierce opposition; chemical companies (including Monsanto back in 1962!) were trying their best to silence her with lawsuits, personal attacks, and more.  In response to the uproar caused by Silent Spring, President Kennedy requested an investigation into Carson’s claims that led to increased regulation over chemical pesticides.

While the investigation did lead to increased regulation, we are still dealing with unnecessary pesticide use today. New stories pop up frequently about the possible connection between pesticides and Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, autism, cancer, poisonings, infertility and more. The problems seemed clear 40 years ago: why is it that we are just learning that new studies on atrazine, a commonly used weedkiller, may be more harmful to humans that previously thought, being “associated with birth defects, low birth weights and reproductive problems among humans, even at concentrations that meet current federal standards.” (Regulators Plan to Study Risks of Atrazine New York Times, Oct. 7, 2009)

What are pesticides?

Natural pesticides do exist, like planting garlic with tomatoes to keep red spider mites away.  But we are talking about chemical pesticides, which I will refer to as “pesticides” throughout this post. Pesticides are used to kill or discourage pests which can take the form of bugs, weeds, germs, animals like mice, birds, gophers, and more. Their use is nothing new; by the 15th century people were using toxic substances such as arsenic on crops to kill pests and arsenic-based pesticides were dominant up until the 1950s. But it was in the 1940s when synthetic pesticides began to be produced, and the 1960s when the associated problems were brought to the attention of the public. Pesticides can be used directly to poison whatever they are applied on, or in a systemic way, poisoning the pollen and nectar of a plant. This type of poisoning will kill insects, but can be problematic, also killing needed pollinators. Pesticides have many categories (such as insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and repellents), and various ways of working; you can find more detailed information here.

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