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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 February 2007, 10:46 GMT
Buy African flowers - UK minister
Flowers from Kenya
Kenyan flowers cause less pollution than EU-grown ones, Mr Benn says
Romantics in the UK should woo their loved ones with flowers imported from Africa rather than those grown in Europe, a minister has said.

International Development Secretary Hilary Benn asked consumers to aid "social justice" on Valentine's Day.

Importing African flowers is better for the environment as they are not grown in heated greenhouses, he said.

The European Federation of Professional Florist Associations called Mr Benn's argument "very strange".

'Do their bit'

The minister told a sustainable food conference that emissions produced by growing flowers in Kenya and flying them to the UK can be less than a fifth of those grown in heated and lighted greenhouses in Holland.

"People want to buy ethically and do their bit for climate change, but often don't realise that they can support developing countries and reduce carbon emissions," he said.

Hilary Benn
This is about social justice and making it easier, not harder, for African people to make a decent living
Hilary Benn, minister

"Recent research shows that flowers flown from Africa can use less energy overall than those produced in Europe because they're not grown in heated greenhouses.

"So, this Valentine's day, you can be a romantic, reduce your environmental impact and help make poverty history.

"This is about social justice and making it easier, not harder, for African people to make a decent living."

Mr Benn said: "Climate change is hugely important to the future of developed and developing countries but if we boycott goods flown from Africa we deny the poor the chance to grow; their chance to educate their children and stay healthy."

It is estimated that almost a third of the UK's imported flowers come from Kenya, with about 70,000 people, most of them women, working on the country's flower farms.

Child labour

The European Federation of Professional Florist Associations general secretary Toine Zwitserlood told BBC News: "What he [Mr Benn] is not doing is looking at the big picture.

"The big picture is not only energy; it's other things like child labour and how employees are treated on farms.

"Our employment standards in Europe are high."

He added: "There is also the question of what is done with waste.

"I think we could make a case for moving many industries to Africa and stop all our agriculture because it's cheaper to produce elsewhere, but where do you stop?

"It's a very strange argument Mr Benn is using."

Mr Zwitserlood said buyers should look for the European industry's Fair Flowers, Fair Plants label, which judges producers by their environmental and human rights records.

A UK Flowers and Plants Association spokeswoman said: "The majority of the African flowers - mostly roses - go to supply the supermarkets.

"So in making his statement Hilary Benn is also calling on people to shop at out-of-town supermarkets and not their local independent high street stores. Is this intended to be part of his message?"

She added: "As a member of the government perhaps he also should be looking to support the UK's own cut flower production industry, which currently supplies about 10% of our domestic cut flower needs, but just 10 years ago was supplying over 20%, and 20 years ago was supplying 45% of the UK's cut flower requirements."

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