There are toxic pesticides in your chai: Study

A Greenpeace India study, released on Monday, says it has identified the presence of pesticides in leading brands of tea sold in India, both national and international. These include pesticides that the World Heath Organization has classified as both highly and moderately hazardous, says the report and adds that tea cultivation in India is on a "pesticide treadmill".

The NGO studied a sample of 49 branded packages of tea from eight of the 11 companies that dominate the Indian market and which also export tea. The samples were taken from Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore, and sent to a certified laboratory in Europe for testing.

"The pesticides result in both acute and chronic toxicity. Acute toxicity is a result of direct contact with the pesticides, and is seen in farmers and tea cultivators who experience body ache, respiratory and skin problems. Chronic impacts are seen with low doses over a long period of time... Pesticides consumed in this manner can be potentially carcinogenic, affect hormones as well as the reproductive system," says Neha Saigal, senior campaigner, Greenpeace India.

The study says, "A large number of the samples tested positive for a cocktail of toxic pesticides. DDT was present in almost 67% of the tea samples, even though it is no longer registered for use in agriculture."

Worse, the report says several samples tested positive for Monocrotophos—a pesticide responsible for killing 23 students in a Bihar school; it was present in their meal. The Food and Agriculture Organization urged developing countries to phase it out after the incident.

"The study results indicate that the tea sector is caught in a pesticide treadmill," says the NGO, which has shared its results with tea companies, and asked them for a time-bound roadmap to replace pesticides with ecological agriculture methods.

To spotlight the issue, Greenpeace India has placed several billboards at the Bandra-Worli Sea Link urging tea companies to "Clean Chai Now". Volunteers have climbed up on these and won't come down till tea companies give a commitment to phase pesticides.

The Tea Board of India on Monday released a statement saying, "Indian teas are well regarded the world over and are totally safe following stringent standards." It added the industry, led by the Board, has been taking steps to make tea cultivation more sustainable and reduce reliance on synthetic plant protection products. It said the Board is open to collaborating with all stakeholders.

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