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Rose producers in Colombia gear up for Valentine's Day, some with dangerous pesticides

Photos by Fernando Vergara / AP

A worker cuts roses to be shipped to the United States ahead of Valentine's Day, the biggest holiday of the year for fresh-cut flower sales at the Mongibello flower company in Chia, north of Bogota, Colombia, Jan. 30, 2012. According to statistics from the Society of American Florists more than 80 percent of the roses bought in the U.S. for this holiday come mainly from Colombia and Ecuador.

Roses are seen packed before being shipped to the US ahead of Valentine's Day.

The Associated Press reports that Colombia’s flower industry, with more than 100,000 employees and annual exports of $1 billion provides an important alternative to growing coca, the source crop for cocaine.

However, by the time the beautiful crop of roses reaches the Valentine’s Day buyer in the United States it is more than likely sprayed with and dipped in a potentially toxic mix of chemicals.

The U.S. requires imported flowers to be bug-free, although not necessarily void of chemical residues, as required for edible fruits and vegetables. But the reliable highland tropical climate that drew U.S. flower growers to Colombia and Ecuador is a haven for pests. This encourages growers to apply a wide range of fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides, some of which have been linked to elevated rates of cancer and neurological disorders and other problems.

A worker packs roses to be shipped to the ahead of Valentine's Day at the Mongibello flower company in Chia, Colombia on Jan. 30, 2012.