Call for country of origin labelling for cut flower industry

Published 13 June 2016

There are calls for country of origin labelling to be introduced to the cut flower industry, so consumers are more aware of where their flowers are coming from, according to new research from the University of New England.

Julia Werren from the UNE School of Law, says some developing countries have poor track records when it comes to the treatment of workers and the use of chemicals.

flowers photo

She says Australian consumers should be aware of where their flowers are coming from.

“There are also flower bodies in Victoria and New South Wales that have asked for consumer law reform so that customers are not deceived into thinking that freshly cut flowers are always freshly picked in Australia. My research calls for reform in the labelling of cut flowers in Australia to include country of origin labelling.”

She said consumers should know that under Australian regulations, imported flowers have to be ‘devitalised.’

“What this means is that the flowers are treated with Roundup for about 20 minutes, to prevent exotics diseases and pests. This may be an important consideration for consumers who want to avoid buying products with chemicals in them.”

Julia Werren looked at international research, which raised concerns about the treatment of workers and the use of chemicals.

There are some reports that the use of pesticides has caused some workers to suffer from bad headaches, dizziness, nausea and blurred vision after working on the flower farms.

“Other workers have reported health problems such as skin, eye and upper respiratory tract infections as well as irregular menstrual cycles for women.”

A survey of almost 9000 men and women in the Colombian cut flower industry showed that these workers were exposed to 127 different types of pesticides.

“This study found that spontaneous abortions and foetal malformation moderately increased within pregnancies that happened after the worker entered the industry.”

Another study undertaken in Ecuador showed women working in the cut flower industry were twice as likely to have a miscarriage than those who worked outside the industry.

“That statistic increased to three and half times more likely the longer the women had been working in the industry, say for 4 to 6 years.’

Even though the industry creates employment opportunities in developing countries, in many cases the level of pay doesn’t allow workers to live above the poverty line.

Julia Werren says Australian consumers want to know where their products are sourced and manufactured, particularly after the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1000 people and the case of Hepatitis A in frozen berries.

There is also clear evidence that many Australians want to support local industries and agriculture. Country of origin labelling may also help to keep the local Australian cut-flower industry viable.

“It is clear there are still many concerns and challenges within the global cut flower industry. So the inability for consumers in Australia to know where the flowers they are purchasing are sourced and grown would be a concern to some if not many Australian consumers.”

The study has recently been published in The Australian Journal of Environmental Law.