Those of us who are part of the organic movement are painfully aware of the hazards of pesticides in our foods. Because we perceive tea to be a healthy beverage, we might not think about pesticides being associated with the produce. With conventionally grown tea however, pesticides are a concern that consumers need to be aware of. I came across a disturbing article written by Dan Bolton that underlines these concerns.
It appears that the tea grown in India for domestic use has significant amounts of pesticide residue in it. “During the period June 2013 through May 2014 Greenpeace sampled 49 branded packaged teas from 8 of the top 11 companies that market domestically. Many of these companies also export tea to Russia, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, the United States and Canada.
A total of 34 pesticides were found in 46 of the 49 samples and 29 of the total contained residue indicating a cocktail of more than 10 different pesticides had been applied. One sample contained residues of 20 different pesticides, some of which are banned.” Perhaps of even greater concern was that some of the samples contained pesticides that have been widely banned, such as DDT and Monocroptophos, which is reported to be an extremely hazardous organophosphorus pesticide.
I think what disturbs me the most is that these multinational tea companies know that they can’t get away with distributing these toxic tea internationally – but can do so within their domestic markets. It’s unconscionable to poison their own people for reasons of financial gain. How can we continue to support companies that flagrantly disregard the health of their consumers? My hope is that this exposure will force these tea companies to do the right thing. Why should there be different standards for exported tea verses teas for the domestic market? Ultimately moving toward healthy and sustainable agricultural practices is the long term solution. Omitting pesticides entirely is a wonderful goal and research is confirming that there are affordable ways to accomplish this.
We have seen this kind of disregard in the financial markets in this country. The U.S. has suffered tremendously because of the greed of the banking/financial/housing/mortgage industry. Let’s not allow our health to be compromised because of similar financial greed. Obviously drinking a cup of conventionally grown tea periodically isn’t going to kill anyone. Drinking a cup of tea which has pesticide residue in it, everyday, over weeks, months and years will accumulate in our bodies and will cause harm to our systems. Knowledge is power.
There were many articles about a huge retailer or two whose teas tested high for pesticides and it wasn’t even a blip on the radar. With an army of paid Tweeters and Facebookers and bloggers and media connections looking for ‘exclusives’, etc., on their side, big companies seemingly can do whatever they want and the brand marches on…along with the sales. Sad but true; not just tea…so many other examples.
Are natural pesticides also undesirable? I’ve had an outbreak of filthy little blighters on my tomatoes. I don’t mind sharing the harvest with the bugs, but they’ve upset the plants so that new blossoms (= continued fruit) have stopped forming. I’ve been advised to use Safer’s soap spray. Although the product is “organic,” I remind myself that Amanita Muscaria (extremely toxic mushroom) is organic and has the capacity to kill me just as dead as Black Flag rat poison. Food labeling has become very creative. Corn is a member of the cane family. Now that we all HATE corn, marketers now list it as “dehydrated cane juice.” Why does big business want to kill off the market? Do they not believe in the inherent harm? (Hey, if it acts as a potent neurotoxin to wasps, how far away am I?)
I believe that “natural” fertilizers and pesticides are safest for humans. Yes it sucks big time that huge corporations can basically do as they please. I wish………………..
The reason that there are a lot of pesticides in tea is because consumers want cheap tea, as well as cheap food. With commodity tea you also have to the use of herbicides as well. The use of both in India, Africa, etc, is that the cost of production would be so high that it would knock them out of the market. It is not that the tea that is being exported is free of these chemicals, but that the MRL levels are within the levels difined as safe by the importing country. Green Peace only tested level for domestic tea. Whether the MRLs are safe or not in the US or Europe is an open question. There are conflicting lobbying interests that go into that discussion. That is true in Germany as well where there are acceptable chemical and unacceptable ones as well. It may just be a coincidence if the safe ones coincide with those being promoted by German chemical companies. The same is true in the US, and choosing organic doesn’t mean chemical free.clearly there are a lot of chemicals ingested everyday in America and there isn’t an epidemic of people as a result. Japan really believes in their agricultural chemicals. Why tea should generate such a repulsive reaction about pesticides and other chemicals then say spinach, is a little bit mysterious. China produces quite a lot of chemical free tea, but it is not because of health reasons, but because of wanting to reach tradition quality through traditional growing. There was agriculture before chemicals to support it, but the cost of food was much higher, and food was not as plentiful in such a wide variety. Cheap is the key word to keep in mind. Commercial tea sells for about $4 a kilo where as quality Chinese tea is hundreds of dollars per kilo at the very least. Cheap is the issue. Corporations provide cheap. Walmart has destroyed small businesses where ever it has opened up stores. People vote with there pocket books. People seem to be pretty happy being able to make the trade off to eat industrial food so they can drive a new SUV and have a big screen TVs. There are plenty of people selling tea that is grown in the tradition way, but out side of Asia there are not a lot of people buying.
Thanks for bringing this to our attention Michelle. This is an important issue and one that I don’t believe most of us have the full story on. We really need to do more. As Regena and Austin have already pointed out, this is a complex issue. Regena’s question about natural pesticides and herbicides is a valid one. We have a tendency in this country to equate “natural” or “organic” with healthy and safe. It’s not quite that simple. Many of the “natural and organic” pesticides/herbicides are highly concentrated products that can be highly toxic, even to humans, and maybe even more than synthetic when applied in heavier amounts which many large farms have to do to get a similar effect as smaller amounts of synthetic. In addition, there is a great deal more leeway within the organic certification requirements than most people are aware. Organic farming, especially big corporate owned organic farms, often use heavy applications of some highly toxic pesticides and still get away with having an organic certified label. Whereas traditional small farmers who are mostly chemical free but use a once a year light application, can’t use that label. Personally, I believe big agribusiness is big agribusiness, regardless of the labels. In my humble opinion, the real distinction between healthy farming practices and unhealthy ones, comes down to farming methods used. Big traditional farms are vast monocultures with no efforts to replenish or nourish the soil, whereas healthy farming incorporates polycultures, crop rotation, soil enrichment etc. Austin’s point is also well taken re: our unwillingness to pay for quality products. We have all been raised in a culture that often values quantity over quality, especially when it comes to food. People would rather eat a lot of poor quality foods at cheap prices so, as Austin stated, “…they can drive a new SUV and have big screen TVs”. The citizens of most European and other first world countries, spend close to 30% of their income on food. Part of that is because they don’t have a tradition of food subsidies and monetary incentives to keep food cheap, and part is due to their willingness and interest in making quality food, and the rituals surrounding it’s preparations and eating, a significant part of the way they spend quality time in their lives.