Tea Time Might Be Over, Once World Wakes Up to Amount of Pesticides Inside Each Cup
Tea time is supposed to be a time to relax and regroup, but it could be one of the riskiest moments of the day. At least, that’s according to a new study released by Greenpeace earlier this month that found a number of popular tea brands contain high doses of pesticide residues. Some teas even tested positive for the long-banned DDT.
Greenpeace published two reports looking at tea in China and in India. In both accounts, the levels of pesticide residues found in tea samples were disturbingly above the safe limits set by the World Health Organization.
China and India are the first and second largest producers of tea, respectively, and a good deal of their tea is exported internationally. It's important to note that although the United States imports almost all of its tea, tea companies are required to produce documentation that proves their compliance before being approved by the FDA and customs. Greenpeace's studies focused on China and India, which are the largest producers, as well as the largest consumers, of tea. Their food safety regulations differ wildly from those of the United States.
In 49 Indian tea samples tested, nearly 60 percent contained at least one pesticide above the safety limits set by the European Union. In 18 samples, the quantity of pesticides were “50 percent more than the maximum level.” A whopping 33 samples contained DDT. In the report on China’s teas, nearly 67 percent of samples (18 total) contained pesticides that have been previously banned under the Stockholm Convention. “Richun's Tieguanyin 803 tea [from China] showed up with 17 different kinds of pesticides!” reported Greenpeace. In total, 14 samples from China contained pesticides that are known to harm unborn children or cause genetic damage.
Brands tested were from 8 of the 11 top tea brands such as Twinings, Tata Tea, Tetley, Brooke Bond, Golden Tips, Goodricke and surprisingly, the No. 1 tea brand: Lipton. In Greenpeace’s studies, three of four Lipton samples, “contained pesticides that are banned for use on tea plants and are highly toxic. Altogether 17 different kinds of pesticides were found on the four samples.”
"As the world's best-selling tea brand, Lipton is taking advantage of China's loose pesticide control measures at the expense of its Chinese customers," Wang Jing, Greenpeace food and agriculture campaigner, told Greenpeace East Asia.
Pesticides found through the test included a number of pesticides that Greenpeace reports are a result of “complicated and confusing” regulations. For instance:
“As of May 2014, a total 248 chemical pesticides have been registered under section 9(3) of the Insecticides Act (1968) for use in India, for all crops. However, the rationale for permitting these remains far from clear; for example, the list contains Endosulfan, which has been subject to a separate comprehensive ban by decision of the High Court as of 2011.”
Pesticides found included methomyl, an insecticide known for harming the nervous system; dicofol, a chemical related to DDT; and endosulfan among many others.
To the news of the findings, Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), one of the largest companies reported in the study, said it complies with the law. "We have internal HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) processes for all our factories,” HUL told DNA India. “Samples of raw materials and finished products are regularly sent to third-party testing laboratories. Our data does not show the presence of any unapproved chemicals and we fully comply with the Indian foods regulations as stipulated by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)."
HUL added it was looking to phase out pesticides with its suppliers by 2020.
Meanwhile, the Tea Board of India is questioning the studies, saying the trace levels of chemicals came from plantations outside the soils.
Another claim? Peter Goggi, president of the Tea Association of the United States, says the pesticides can remain in the soils long after they're used. "If you look at ag-reports and certain papers that are done, residual DDT is still there," he told AlterNet. He says that although Greenpeace may have pointed out pesticides, the report fails to prove the tea is unsafe to consume. "The tea is safe to consume and as a tea association we work in partnership work with growers and FDA to work with the entire supply."
This story has been updated.