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Jose Azout, Alexandra Farms, reponds and clears up misunderstandings

Also criticism on South American farms

Criticizing the main flower producing countries seems to be a trend. Also in the US, where the majority of the flowers are being imported from South American countries like Ecuador and Colombia, the mode of production of the farms in these countries is still being criticized. In spite of the initiatives that have been undertaken over the years to make the production of flowers more sustainable, the flowers from these countries still seem to have a bad reputation among some in the USA. According to Colombian rose grower Jose Azout of Alexandra Farms, the current critiques on the flowers and farms are often based on old, inadequate or unproven findings. In a reaction to a recent article about the negative impacts of imported flowers, Azout wants to clear up the misunderstandings around flowers from Ecuador and Colombia once and for all.

Nancy Montealegre, Sandy Saenz, Jose Azout and Maria Paula Cordoba of Alexandra farms at the Proflora in Bogota, Colombia.

Recently, on May 16, an article was published on, a social network of citizen activists, by Diane MacEachern. In this article, she states that more pesticides are being used on imported flowers as the temperatures are higher which increases the occurrence of plant diseases. This, in turn would have an affect on the health of the employees, and pregnant women in particular, that are working in the greenhouse. Besides that, she also points out that roses can contain as much as 50 times the amount of pesticides legally allowed on the food we eat and that the cultivation of roses has an enormous environmental impact. For these reasons, she advises US customers to buy local or grow their own flowers.

Clearing up misunderstanding
According to Azout, there are several things very wrong with Diane MacEachern’s article and he gives a reaction to clear up the misconceptions concerning the negative impact of flowers imported from Ecuador and Colombia.

High temperatures
According to Azout, MacEachern already starts off with a wrong statement, she mentions that most of the flowers sold in the USA are produced in Latin America where there are constant high temperatures. "Well it turns out that Latina America is a very large place ranging from Mexico (in the same continent as the US) all the way down to Argentina and Chile (where the weather is quite similar to that of New York and Boston. It also happens to be that the majority of the flowers imported are grown in places that have spring weather all year like the savanna of Bogota and Quito, both over 8000 feet high in the Andes mountains where it is not hot – it is actually much cooler than it is in Florida or many places in California (where most of the domestically produced flowers are grown)", he says. 

- Use of pesticides
The article states that Colombia and Ecuador are still using dangerous pesticides that are banned in the US. However, according to Azout, Colombia and Ecuador have long ago banned the use of dangerous pesticides. "As a matter of fact, the US continues to use Methyl Bromide, a damaging chemical (bad for people, animals and the Ozone layer) that has been banned in Colombia for over 20 years. One should also keep in mind that most of the production from both Colombia and Ecuador comes from farms that have ecological and social certifications. These certifications come from independent third party organizations that verify the ecological use of pesticides and fertilizers and the responsible treatment of people. These certifications include: Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Veri-flora, Global Gap, Florverde (the official seal of the Association of Colombia Flower Growers), Flor Ecuador (The official seal of Expoflores – the Ecuadorian association of flower exporters) and others."

- Pregnant Mothers
According to Azout, the certifications mentioned earlier require (among many other things) that any pesticide application is done within a careful protocol of protection for the employees. "For example all applications are made by employees with extensive protective suits and masks. Greenhouses are also closed for long period of time until the spray has been diffused. Also, only men do pesticide applications. Pregnant mothers are never exposed to any pesticides."

- Residue
In the article, the editor refers to an Environmental News Network Story report where it states that 'Roses contain as much as 50 times the amount of pesticides found in the food we eat'. According to Azout, the statements in this report are unfounded. "Checking into the report I found the article published by Knight-Ridder written by Margot Higgins and nowhere does it list the recent studies or who made them. Although I contest the “50 times” statement it is likely that roses and flowers in general contain more pesticides than the food we eat. And that is why it is not recommended that you eat the flowers you receive! They also do not taste good! If anybody is still worried about the small amounts of residue that may be found in flowers, rinse them out in water and then place in a vase."

Climate Change
"The carbon footprint of refrigerating a flower greenhouse in the summer and heating it in the winter when the greenhouse is in the northern hemisphere is much, much higher than the carbon footprint of flying and trucking the flowers from southern countries. You are doing the environment a favor by not overworking carbon burning electric plants to heat greenhouses."

Locally grown flowers
In the article, the writer motivates her readers to grow or by locally grown flowers. According to Azout, there is nothing wrong with growing your own flowers, or going to farmers markets or participating in a Garden Club swap, "but don’t be fooled", he says. "Imported products from Colombia, Ecuador, Holland, Israel and other countries around the world offer a huge breadth of different floral products, year-round availability, superb quality, accessible prices, and help maintain hundreds of families that rely on their employment at flower farms."
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