Along with being the world’s largest producer of tea, China is also the world’s largest user of pesticides. The excessive use of dangerous pesticides in green tea farming is having a real impact on the safety of tea in the global market.
The main global producer and exporter of tea is China. Whether it is green tea, oolong tea, jasmine tea or any other tea, odds are it comes from China.
Around 35% of the world’s tea is farmed and processed in China. They currently produce over 80% of the world’s green tea and are the top exporter. They dominate with 78% of the export market.
And every year there are more plantations and more output.
What are the pesticides in green tea from China?
In a study done by Greenpeace in early 2012, researchers took 18 samples of medium-grade tea from 9 different tea manufacturers in China. They sent these samples to a third party lab to test for pesticides. What they found is shocking!
All 18 samples had no less than 3 different types of pesticides.
12 of the 18 samples had traces of banned pesticides.
14 contained pesticides that the European Union believes may impair fertility, cause harm to unborn children or cause heritable genetic damage.
All the samples gathered for this study had a cocktail of pesticides detected. In total, there were 29 different pesticides found in all of the 18 samples of tea. A third of the samples had traces of at least 10 different kinds of pesticides.
Of the 18 samples, 12 had residue of pesticides banned by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture for use on tea plants. The banned pesticides found were methomyl, endosulfan and fenvalerate.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified methomyl as highly hazardous. This poison is rated as having an acute toxicity, which means that the adverse effects may occur within days of ingesting the substance.
Endosulfan is banned globally! This dangerous chemical is difficult to breakdown naturally, meaning it stays around for a long time.
Why is this important?
You probably wash your fruits and vegetables before eating them in hopes that it will remove any harmful residue. Odds are you don’t wash each individual tea leaf before brewing a cup. So when you steep your green tea, that toxic residue washes right off into your drink.
So what’s the solution?
No matter the reason, it seems like a good idea. I’m not sure how much poison it washes off the leaves, but I’d rather dump that bit than drink it.
Avoid Chinese tea
Another solution would be to do what I did. Stop drinking Chinese green tea altogether and move over to only drinking Japanese green tea.
Contrary to common belief, these two countries are not the same! China is overcrowded, polluted, unorganized, and corrupt. It is fraught with dubious business men and women that are willing to pay bribes in order to pass product inspections.
Japan, on the other hand, is a first world country with very strict regulations on farming. Their regulations on pesticides are more strict than those of the European Union. So you can be sure there are fewer pesticides in Japanese green tea.
Also, farms in Japan are kept small and are owned by individual farmers. Since these farming families have a limited amount of land, they take extra care of what they put on their soil and crops. It wouldn’t be beneficial for them to use extremely toxic pesticides that could potentially ruin their land.
My advice is to know the origin of your tea.
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Sources added after the comment below from Robbie Green. Thank you for your suggestion.
Currell, D., & Davis Bradley, T. (2012). Greased palms, giant headaches. Harvard Business Review, 90(9), 21-23.
Greenpeace (2012, April 11). Pesticides: Hidden ingredients in Chinese tea. Retrieved from http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/publications/reports/food-agriculture/2012/pesticides-chinese-tea-report/
Wedeman, A. (2013). The dark side of business with Chinese characteristics. Social Research, 80(4), 1213-1236.