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Hazardous pesticides in tea: MNC Uniliver, Modi favourite Tatas, top Gujarat brand Wagh Bakri blamed

By Our Representative
An investigation carried out by top international environmental NGO Greenpeace has found “residues of hazardous chemical pesticides” in a majority of samples of the main brands of packaged tea produced and consumed in India, including MNC Uniliver subsidiary, India’s powerful business group Tatas, and Gujarat's favourite tea brand Wagh Bakri. “Over half of the samples contained pesticides that are ‘unapproved’ for use in tea cultivation or which were present in excess of recommended limits”, a Greenpeace report, based on research carried out by its team in India, insisted.
The Greenpeace report, titled “Trouble Brewing: Pesticide Residues in Tea Samples in India”, points out, “The results indicate that the cultivation of tea in India continues to rely on of the use of a diverse range of pesticides, consistent with previous analyses of pesticide residues in tea produced in India.” It adds, “Dependency on pesticides is an inherent part of the current system of industrial agriculture and in the cultivation of tea in other countries, as shown in a similar report on Chinese tea published by Greenpeace in 2012”.
Suggesting why there is reason for the report should be of global concern, the report says, “India is the second largest producer and the fourth largest exporter of tea globally, with the marketing and sales of tea forming a multi-billion dollar market (estimated at US$40.7 billion) both domestically, and globally. Within India, the top two brands – Hindustan Unilever Limited, subsidiary of the global multinational company Unilever, and Tata Global Beverages Limited – share upwards of 50 percent of the market.”
Greenpeace collected a total of 49 branded and packaged tea samples. “These were purchased between June 2013 and May 2014 from retail outlets in Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi and Kolkata and were sent to an independent accredited laboratory to be tested for the presence of over 350 different pesticides. The samples cover eight of the top eleven companies which dominate the branded tea market in India. These include well-known brands produced by Hindustan Unilever Limited, Tata Global Beverages Limited, Wagh Bakri Tea, Goodricke Tea, Twinings, Golden Tips, Kho-Cha and Girnar”, the report says.
“A total of 34 pesticides were found, with 46 samples of branded tea – or 94% - containing residues of at least one pesticide. 59% (29 of the samples) contained ‘cocktails’ of more than 10 different pesticides, including one sample which contained residues of 20 different pesticides. 59% (29) of the samples also contained residues of at least one pesticide active ingredient above the Maximum Residue Levels set by the EU (EU-MRL), with 37% (18) of the tea samples exceeding these levels by more than 50%”, the report states.
The report regrets, “The chaotic and conflicting state of regulations in India regarding authorisation of pesticides makes it extremely difficult to draw clear conclusions. However, 68% of the 34 pesticides found in the various samples appear not to be registered for use in cultivation of tea.”
Greenpeace’s specific examples include:
· Monocrotophos, a suspected mutagen and neurotoxicant, found in 27 samples across tea brands made by various companies including Tata, Hindustan Unilever, Kho Cha, Royal Girnar, Goodricke, Wagh Bakri and Golden Tips. This pesticide is not approved for use on tea and is classified as Highly Hazardous (Class Ib) by the World Health Organisation.
· Triazophos, another unapproved toxic pesticide, was found in five samples (in tea brands made by Tata, Hindustan Unilever, and Wagh Bakri). This pesticide is also classified as Highly Hazardous (Class Ib) by the World Health Organization (WHO).
· Tebufenpyrad, which is not registered in India, and therefore illegal, was found in one sample manufactured by Hindustan Unilever. Tebufenpyrad is a potential liver toxicant at high concentrations.
· DDT: The results also showed the presence of the pesticide DDT, banned for use in agriculture in India since 1989, as well as a significant number of pesticides classified as Moderately Hazardous according to WHO. These included Cypermethrin, classified as a respiratory irritant, and the neonicotinoid insecticide Imidacloprid has shown the potential to cause reproductive or developmental impacts in animals. All three of these pesticides were found in 60% or more of the samples.
· Neonicotinoid insecticides were present in a large proportion of samples (for example, Thiacloprid at 67.3% and Thiamethoxam at 78%), which may indicate that these relatively new entrants to the agrochemical market are becoming insecticides of choice in tea cultivation, and that tea production is still firmly stuck on the industrial pesticide treadmill.
Greenpeace says, “The results indicate that the cultivation of tea in India continues to depend on a large number of chemicals with proven adverse effects on the environment and human health. Companies purchasing and selling tea in India and other key stakeholders in the industry need to act urgently to ensure the protection of the environment and of human health. Such changes will require strong supportive policies to ensure the tea sector as a whole, including small tea growers, can shift rapidly away from the use of these chemical pesticides and thereby avoid the associated hazards.”
It adds, “The tea sector needs to become aware of ecological agriculture systems which already exist and to apply the same principles in tea cultivation. Ecological agriculture techniques could prove to be both a sound business choice for the tea sector as well as a global market leadership opportunity for any given tea brand. The tea industry needs to take responsibility for existing problems to make a commitment to their consumers that they can trust that tea production will not contaminate the environment or expose consumers to hazardous pesticide residues, from crop to cup.”

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