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Greenpeace storm in green-tea cup

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  • Published 12.08.14
‘Wake-up call’

New Delhi, Aug. 11: Several brands of tea produced in India for the domestic and export markets are contaminated with potentially hazardous pesticides, including some not approved for use in tea plantations, an environmental activists group claimed today.

Greenpeace said it had found pesticides in 46 among a set of 49 samples of branded and packaged tea that it had bought from various retail outlets in Bangalore, Calcutta, Delhi, and Mumbai between June 2013 and May 2014.

It said 29 of these 46 samples contained cocktails of 10 or more pesticides.

But the environment activists concede there is no evidence for the health impacts of pesticides.

“While the toxic effects of pesticides are relatively easy to recognise, it is difficult to link long-term chronic effects, such as the effects on the endocrine or reproductive systems, as specifically caused by pesticides,” said Neha Saigal, a senior campaigner for Greenpeace India.

The environmental group said it had sent the tea samples to an independent, accredited laboratory where they were tested for the presence of pesticides.

The samples that were analysed came from eight of 11 companies that dominate India’s tea market and included Hindustan Unilever, Tata Global Beverages and Twinings, among others.

Many of the samples had pesticides not approved for use on tea plantations.

The survey found that 33 of the 46 samples contained DDT, banned for use in agriculture since 1989. Nineteen samples contained clothianidin, 32 had deltamethrin, and six had a fungicide called carbendazim.

None of these three pesticides is registered for use on tea plantations in India.

“We want these findings to be a wake-up call for the tea industry,” Saigal said, adding that Greenpeace India had shared the findings with each of the companies whose brands they had examined about two weeks ago.

“We’ve received a largely positive response from all the companies that we had contacted,” she said. “They’re positively engaged with us — we believe this is an indication that they’re acknowledging there is a problem.”

India’s Tea Board has called a meeting of its senior officials, tea research scientists and tea industry representatives tomorrow to discuss today’s Greenpeace report.

“These findings are of course a matter of concern,” Biswajit Bera, director of research at the Tea Board, Calcutta, told The Telegraph. India’s tea research centres in Jorhat and Coimbatore are engaged in monitoring pesticide residues, Bera said.

“Whenever we find levels that exceed the maximum permissible limits, there is follow-up action to identify the garden or plantation and take remedial measures. We have organised many workshops for tea growers to ensure they follow pesticide regulations,” Bera added.

Greenpeace has said its survey found that 68 per cent of the 34 pesticides found in various samples of tea appear to not even have been registered for use in the cultivation of tea.

Bera declined comment on the presence of specific pesticides, saying he would respond only after studying the Greenpeace report in detail.