Whether it’s for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or a birthday: the trade offers fresh cut flowers all year round, with a particularly large selection of roses. They are considered the most popular cut flowers in Germany. Cut flower breeding in Germany cannot meet the demand. Therefore, around 80 percent of the flowers are imported. They usually have a long journey behind them. Where exactly the plants were grown is difficult for buyers to understand, because there is no obligation to declare in Germany.
Many roses come from Africa
A large proportion of the roses imported into Germany come from the Netherlands. That doesn’t mean they were grown there, just that they were traded there. East African Kenya ranks second among the countries of origin. A total of around 1.6 billion roses are imported each year. Low prices in German trade are only possible if the plants are grown in large quantities under favorable climatic conditions.
Residues of pesticides – also with Fairtrade flowers
“The problem with cut flowers is that even in Germany there are no limit values for pesticide residues, as there are for food, for example,” says Corinna Hölzel from the Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND). Even if some of the chemicals are banned in the EU, only the rules of the countries of origin apply. In addition to Kenya and its neighboring countries, the most important export countries for flowers are the South American countries of Ecuador and Colombia.
The Markt editorial team recently had roses imported from Africa examined. A total of 30 different pesticide residues were found in the four bouquets. Up to 19 different substances have been detected in a single bouquet.
The magazine Öko-Test last had rose bouquets examined in January 2023. A total of more than 54 different substances such as fungicides and insecticides were found in the 21 bouquets. No bundle was completely free of it – not even the tested Fairtrade flowers.
Fairtrade Germany confirmed that cultivation without pesticides is not possible on the large farms, but that occupational safety is guaranteed by the certification. The organization focuses on social conditions such as fair wages for workers, union activities and the ban on child labor. However, be with Fairtrade roses, the use of particularly dangerous substances is prohibited. However, even in Fairtrade cultivation overseas, pesticides are used that are not approved in the EU.
Insect killers also burdensome for the workers
Not only the residues on the flowers are problematic, but often also the conditions for workers who spray such agents. In the past, they were often not sufficiently informed about the health risks associated with the use of plant protection products and in many cases hardly have access to suitable protective clothing. However, the industry offers tens of thousands of jobs in the countries and is an important branch of the economy. The environmental organization Greenpeace complains that pesticides are often used in German nurseries to kill fungi and insects.
No acute risk for consumers
For consumers, on the other hand, there is a lot of noise Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) no acute health risk from sprayed cut flowers. However, possible long-term effects and interactions between different pesticides were not taken into account in the risk assessment. Gardeners who regularly handle treated roses should wear gardening gloves and clean work surfaces at all times.
Recommended: Seasonal flowers and potted plants
Consumers have the best chance of getting flowers that have been grown in an environmentally friendly way in their vases if they buy them from certified organic farms in the summer. In local nurseries, however, the selection and availability are limited. In winter, flowering houseplants such as amaryllis, poinsettias or cyclamen can be an alternative. Spring flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils, most of which come from greenhouses in the Netherlands, come onto the market as early as the turn of the year.
Slowflower Movement: Regional, seasonal and sustainable
An alternative to imported goods are also nurseries, which have dedicated themselves to the so-called Slowflower movement. The associated companies focus on sustainability, seasonality and regionality. From sowing to harvest, neither pesticides nor peat soil are used here. In the cold season, they often also offer decorative bouquets made of dried flowers or straw flowers.