(Beyond Pesticides, June 25, 2013) Traditional Chinese herbs, widely regarded for their medicinal properties, may not be as therapeutic as they seem. In fact, according to a new report released by Greenpeace East Asia, they may be toxic to your health. This news isn’t just disturbing for the Chinese people who live and work around where these toxic herbs are produced, but also for the entire global export market for Chinese alternative medicines, valued at $1.46 billion in 2010.
The Greenpeace report found pesticides in 48 out of their 65 samples of traditional Chinese herbs, which included plants such as wolfberries, honeysuckle, the San Qi flower and chrysanthemum. Of these samples, the researchers discovered 51 different kinds of pesticide residues, with 32 of the samples tested containing traces of three or more different pesticides. In 26 samples, residues from pesticides that have been banned for use in agriculture in China were found, including phorate, carbofuran, fipronil, methamidophos, aldicarb and ethoprophos.
This report isn’t the first where Chinese exports have been singled out for presence of pesticide contamination. In April 2012, Greenpeace released a report found that Unilever’s Lipton tea bags made in China contain pesticide residues that exceed the European Union’s (EU) maximum levels; three of these pesticides were banned for use in tea production by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, and seven of them were prohibited in the European Union, including the cancer-causing insecticide endosulfan and the harmful synthetic pyrethriod bifenthrin. Of the tested teas, 13 pesticides were found in green and tieguanyin tea and residues from nine were found in jasmine tea, according to Greenpeace.
China has also been active in pushing the United States to accept the country’s toxic imports. In February of this year, Beyond Pesticides reported on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) allowance of endosulfan on imported Chinese teas until July 31, 2016. EPA had originally issued an immediate revocation of the allowance of endosulfan on tea sold in the U.S., however the Chamber of Commerce of the Zhejiang International Tea Industry filed a complaint indicating that it would need five years or less to find feasible alternatives to the chemical. It also indicated that it was unable to provide comment on the tolerance revocation ruling as the EPA did not provide proper notice to the World Trade Organization. In acknowledging this oversight, EPA is allowing endosulfan residues of 24 parts per million (ppm) in imported Chinese tea, until July 31, 2016. Despite the risks posed by endosulfan residues, EPA sees the decision as “appropriate,” raising questions about whether EPA is putting economic interests ahead of public health.
As the Greenpeace report states, “Unfortunately, this situation is only the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem: the general failure of chemical-intensive agriculture to feed people safely, while preventing environmental degradation.” This statement applies both to China and the U.S., as the repeated failures of conventional agriculture are beginning to come into global focus. Organic agriculture represents a way forward from poisoned landscapes and pesticide-laden food. This ecologically-based management system prioritizes human safety and environmental health through cultural, biological, and mechanical production and natural inputs. By strengthening on-farm resources, such as soil fertility, beneficial organisms, and biodiversity, organic farmers avoid the production challenges that chemical inputs, such as synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics, are marketed as solving.
For more information on the pesticides that could be present in the food we eat, and why food labeled organic is the right choice, see Beyond Pesticides’ Eating With A Conscience (EWAC) webpage. EWAC has recently been updated with over 30 new foods, and also includes the impacts the growth of this food has on farm workers, water, and our threatened pollinators.
Source (including image): Greenpeace Asia
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.