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Floral Industry Launches New U.S. Eco-Label for Sustainably Grown Flowers

An international panel of industry experts gathered last week to launch a new American eco-label for sustainably produced floral products.

The symposium, "Eco-Flower Power: Sustainability Trends for the Floral Industry," was organized by flower-seller Organic Bouquet and Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), an established environmental standards developer and independent certifier. The panel included flower growers, environmental scientists, wholesalers, distributors, labor experts, certification organizations and organic trade association leaders. Panelists took a candid look at historic problems facing the floral industry related to pesticide use, labor issues, and ecological impacts, then described evolving practices and initiatives aimed at moving the industry on the path toward sustainability.

Among these initiatives is the new Veriflora certification standard launched by SCS for the American market. The standard revolves around six principles -- advanced agricultural practices, social responsibility, conservation of ecological resources, water conservation, waste management, and product quality — and addresses production practices ranging from soil preparation and seed planting through production, harvest, and post-harvest handling. The standard also includes procedures for verifying the integrity of certified flowers and ornamental plants throughout the chain-of-custody.

"Flower retailers and consumers are increasingly seeking assurances regarding sustainable farming methods, and good social practices relating to the production and handling of fresh cut flowers," said Stanley Rhodes, president and CEO of SCS. "The Veriflora standard gives the floral industry a certification program that is science based, transparent, and objective, while satisfying consumer demand."

Building upon earlier certification programs primarily targeted at European markets, as well as sustainability initiatives in other agricultural arenas, Veriflora is the first sustainable agriculture standard to explicitly incorporate organic agricultural practices into its criteria.

"For the first time in the development of sustainable agriculture standards, organic practices will serve as the cornerstone of grower achievement," said Gerald Prolman, founder and CEO of Organic Bouquet. "Other agricultural sectors have demonstrated that organic practices are viable and help meet the needs of consumers. The floral industry can now build on their successes."

NSF International (NSF), an independent, not-for-profit standards writing organization accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), announced its intention to use the Veriflora standard as the basis of a NSF Draft American National Standard for Trial Use under the ANSI rules. At the same time, NSF will begin the formation of a consensus body of interested industry, regulatory, and user sectors to begin the formal process for adoption of the Draft Standard as an NSF American National Standard.

"There is a growing recognition that agricultural practices, ecological conservation, and social responsibility are all critical aspects of sustainable certification of floral products, and are best measured against standards that incorporate the concerns of all stakeholders," said Kevan Lawlor, president and CEO of NSF International. "The floral industry -- dedicated to producing symbols of caring and affection -- is well positioned to come together around a common standard that will resonate with American consumers."

In the meantime, SCS will accredit certifiers to conduct certification audits of flower farms and wholesalers. Quality Assurance International (QAI), a respected organic certifier and subsidiary of NSF, is expected to be the first certifier to be accredited.

The $16 billion U.S. floral industry is already being influenced by flowers produced according to certain environmental or social criteria. For instance, according to the Organic Trade Association, the newly emerging organic floral market reached $8 million in 2003 and is expected to grow 13 percent annually through 2008. Flowers produced using organic agriculture practices is just one element of the larger sustainable agriculture movement.

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