What Do Steak and Roses Have In Common?

The Colombian flower industry employs many women, a large portion is single mothers.  Workers are paid an wage above the $250 a month minimum wage to retain workers.  In Colombia  40% of the roses cost is labor.  Even if paid double the minimum wage which would be $500 a month, US floral producers could not get workers at such a low cost. 

by Maggie Nutter ( This is my own experience and does not necessarily reflect the beliefs of MRLA )

What Do Steak and Roses Have In Common?  A need for Country of Origin Labeling and Fair Trade.

While on a recent trip to Colombia the group I was with toured Melody Flowers, a family business that specializes in hydroponically growing Roses and Baby’s Breath.   The business was established in 1998, just a few years after 1991 Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA). The ATPA was an effort of the U.S. Government to curb coca farming and drug traffic by suspended the tariffs on certain goods from South America and Asia.

Colombia’s warm climate and abundant rain allow the nurseries to collect rain water for 40% to 50% of their hydroponic growing needs and have heating as an emergency back up only. 
The hydroponically grown plants can last up to 25 years.  Usually they are changed out sooner due to the consumer demand for new color or variety.  Colombia has less strict horticulture regulations and new varieties developed in the Netherlands can be shipped and used right away.  The U.S.A. has a two year quarantine on imported new varieties.  

In January, 1997, House Bill 54, was introduced by Sam Farr, (D) California, to remove flowers from the preferential status given by ATPA. The Sponsor of the Bill stated that ATPA had caused a decline in the US flower industry due to the one directional trade and had not reduced drug traffic.  From 1991 to 1996 cut flower imports increased by 80%.  During the hearing the US Flower industry also pointed out that Colombia did not have the same OSHA, Environmental or Horticultural regulations that they had to follow already giving them a competitive edge. Cut Flowers do not required to be labeled with Country of Origin to allow for consumer choice to support US floral industry.    HB 54 did not go anywhere and ATPA remained in place as the US Government did not see an overall job loss to Colombia in the US, though it did recognize that the Flower Industry may have declined.

A dozen Roses  are abundant now in grocery stores and elsewhere with the price well below what US grower can produce and sell them for even with the many modifications they have made to their growing operations.   In 1990, California supplied 95% of the cut flowers in the USA, in 2015 they supplied less than 2% even with the increased sales of cut flowers. 

Thought the ATPA expired in 2013, cut flowers continue to flow into the US duty free under the 2012 Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.

There are currently approximately 160,000 workers in the Colombian flower industry. Minimum wage is approximately $250 a month and health coverage.  Workers in the cut flower industry are paid a higher than minimum wage to attract and maintain a workforce. Labor is 40 percent of the Colombian cut flower cost.  Thirty to thirty-five air flights a day leave Bogota to Miami and New York full of cut flowers.


There are currently 160,000 workers in the Colombian Flower Industry.  Many of them women.  While the floral industry increased jobs for women it did not necessarily achieve the goal of reducing drug production and traffic. 

With low cost labor and perfect climate Colombian the cut flower industry has been able to flourish.  Today over 70% percent of the flower purchased in the US are imported from Colombia.  While cut flowers became Colombia’s second largest export to the US next to coffee, the US flower industry wilted unable to compete with the cheap labor and less regulated horticulture.  In 1990, California supplied 95% of the cut flowers in the United States, in 2015 it was less than 2%.

US Cattle industry could face this same dilemma. The four major packers have found cheaper alternatives to US produced cattle.   The first containers of Brazilian Beef arrived on the shores of the US this last fall.  Brazil uses cheap and slave labor for cattle production.  The Brazilian cattle herd expanded 200% between 2003 and 2013.  The Brazilian Government  is currently focused on increasing exports of beef and dairy products through international promotion.

This May 2016, United Nations report on Brazilian export says a lot in this one opening paragraph.

“Brazil prides itself on having one of the most liberal agricultural policies of any of the major global players. There are no financial mechanisms or subsidies aimed at encouraging farmers or traders to sell their products internationally. Conversely, the government does not place any restrictions or hindrances on exports, agricultural or otherwise, based on their level of processing and there are no limits or taxes on commodities exports… –Brazilian agricultural trade export promotion experience to advance agricultural trade:  legal, regulatory and operational frameworks and impact assessment, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. May 24-25, 2016, pg. 4

As Brazilian JBS ramps up its plans on exporting not only trim for grind but steaks and larger cuts of beef to the US, Mexico is also growing its beef and cattle industry.  In the last decade, there has been increase in the numbers of federally inspected slaughter facilities. Also SuKarne  and other companies in Mexico have adopted the boxed beef technology that allows easier access to foreign markets.

Fading are the days of skinny long tailed Mexican cattle. Improvement of genetics from US and Canadian semen and cattle herd have helped them to improve speed of weight gain and quality of cuts.

The US beef market may go the way of the California rose. We need Country of Origin Labeling to be able to differentiate our beef and we need fair trade, not one way trade.

Please prove up your support for Country of Origin Labeling by signing this petition that will be presented to President Trump’s Agricultural Team and the USDA, Food Safety Inspection Service.

American’s Wants Labeled Beef  http://bit.ly/COOLforBeef  (please note the link is case sensitive and must be typed as seen if the quick link does not work for you.)


  1. http://today.agrilife.org/2016/09/15/wilting-u-s-cut-flower-industry-perk-university-research/ Wilting of the US Flower Industry.
  2. http://bit.ly/2lpuSgD , pages 77-81, Andean Trade Preference Act – Joanne Guth
  3. https://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/pdf/atpa2013.pdf 2013 Annual Report- Trade and Employment Effects of the Andean Trade Preference Act
  4. http://trade.gov/fta/colombia/ Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement
  5. http://www.reuters.com/article/usa-brazil-meat-idUSN1414229520100414 Brazil Beef
  6. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-08-19/cattle-company-fined-for-slavery/949846 Company fined for slave labor- some under 14 years of age.
  7. http://www.hngn.com/articles/179868/20160217/modern-day-slavery-brazil-340-brazilian-companies-blacklisted-forced-labor.htm Brazil blackballed Companies for Slave Labor.
  8. http://hrbaportal.org/wp-content/files/Brazil_Forced-Labour.pdf International Labour Office Report
  9. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110304091504.htm Brazil exports of beef lead to deforestation.
  10. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/ipdf/10.1021/es103240z Brazilian deforestation and carbon foot print.
  11. http://www.philly.com/philly/business/transportation/Philadelphia-port-gets-first-fresh-beef-from-Brazil-since-a-ban-between-nations-was-dropped-.html JBS breaks through to US
  12. http://beef2live.com/story-world-beef-exports-ranking-countries-0-106903 Brazil is largest beef exporter.
  13. http://www.cattlenetwork.com/news/markets/mexican-beef-exports-continue-grow Mexican beef continues to grow.
  14. http://mexicanbeef.org/sukarne-invests-40-6-million/ Sukarne expands production with eye on US and Japan
  15. http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/trade11214/$FILE/2016_exec_summary_livestock_genetics_mex.pdf Canada helping to improve Mexican cattle genetics.
  16. https://gain.fas.usda.gov/Recent%20GAIN%20Publications/Livestock%20and%20Products%20Annual_Mexico%20City_Mexico_9-1-2015.pdf Improved Genetic result in fast gain as Mexico increase production for export using US and Canadian Genetics.

2 thoughts on “What Do Steak and Roses Have In Common?

  1. I recall a grower in southwestern state saying he could not complete with Mexico flowers.
    He had several acres under roof of geo thermaly heated green houses. This would have been in the early 90’s
    Was an acquaintance met on a ag forum.


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