Another Reason to Buy Organic – Conventional Tea Contains Illegal and Highly Toxic Pesticides

While we constantly hear about the tremendous health benefits of drinking tea, one thing that almost never gets mentioned in this message is just how critical it is to drink organic tea.

In a recently released report called Tea Steeped in Toxics, the excellent non-profit Beyond Pesticides gives us an inside look at what is going on in the tea industry. Needless to say, what they uncover is very ugly and very scary.

Here are some highlights of the report:

* The FDA consistently finds that imported tea contains high levels of illegal pesticide residues. These include: permethrin (which is linked to cancer and endocrine disruption), DDE (a metabolite of DDT, which was banned in the U.S. in 1972), heptachlor epoxide (a derivative of the pesticide heptachlor, which was banned in the U.S. due to its carcinogenicity), and acetamiprid (a bee-toxic neonicotoid).

* Until mid-2016, the EPA will continue to allow the importation of tea from China which contains a banned pesticide tea called endosulfan, a chemical that the EPA has said “poses unacceptable risks” to farm workers and wildlife. Additionally, tests on laboratory animals have shown that endosulfan is toxic to the nervous system and can damage the kidney, liver and male reproductive organs.

* There are very weak regulations and a serious lack of enforcement in China and India, two of the major tea producers in the world.

Pesticide residues on tea from India include DDT, which has been banned since 1989 in India, and endosulfan, which was banned in the country as well in 2011. Furthermore, many pesticides which have been found on Indian tea are either illegal or have never been registered.

In China, the situation is equally as grim. Tests have detected 29 different pesticides, including reproductive and developmental toxicants, bee-killing chemicals, and banned pesticides.

* A 2014 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the FDA tests less than 1/10 of 1% of all imported foods. When it comes to tea, this is especially problematic for two reasons.

One, nearly everything is imported because there is almost no U.S. production of tea.

Two, tea consistently receives incredibly high violation rates from the FDA’s Pesticide Monitoring Program. So, we know that that whatever tea gets imported, there is a decent chance it won’t meet U.S. standards.

For a variety of reasons outlined in the report, this is a complex problem that cannot be easily solved, largely because of a lack of funds, weak regulations and enforcement in developing countries, and poor communication between trade nations.

The bottom line is this: Drinking organic tea is an absolute must.

Organic tea prohibits the use of these super-toxic pesticides mentioned above, and organic certifiers verify that growers are in compliance with organic systems management plans, which protect both farmworkers and the environment.

There are many, many excellent organic tea brands on the market and by no means is this a comprehensive list of all of them. However, a few that I like are:

Runa Tea – guayusa contains twice the amount of antioxidants of green tea, and the company is doing some amazing work raising the standard of living in Ecuadorian communities.

Republic of Tea – this Biodynamic blend offers great flavor, and the turmeric and cinnamon combination provides excellent anti-inflammatory benefits.

Numi Tea – this soothing and calming combination uses South African rooibos along with real vanilla beans, sweet honeybush and rich cacao.

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20 Comments

  • James says:

    Source for good, organic Japanese green tea?

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  • Josh Seiler says:

    Jeez, I should either stop reading or start re-vamping my entire pantry! Lots of good info, thanks again, Max. I drink a LOT of tea since I stopped drinking coffee and so I will take this advice seriously.

  • lindy says:

    I guess that means no more Barry’s gold blend from Ireland. Bummer

  • Jo says:

    Hi Max,
    Do you think tea from China that’s marked organic can be trusted to really be organic? I’ve been using two, one a green tea and one a white tea. Thanks!

    • Max Goldberg says:

      Hi Jo,

      You have to be real careful of organic products from China. I would contact the manufacturer and ask them if they have done batch testing for heavy metals.

      Live well,
      Max

  • Terrific info! I have been eating 100% organic since 1974. I only buy organic, fair trade tea but wen to a community event a few days ago. The only beverage was soda pop and black ice tea – the tea had no sugar, so I thought it would be OK and I drank about 5 cups – in my city is is in the 90 degree temperature. After reading this article it curdled my girdle. I figured non-organic tea was not good to drink since it is most likely grown by slave labor – but I had NO IDEA just how bad conventional, non organic tea was.

    A supermarket in my neighborhood recently created a huge bulk bin area – including bulk teas – the teas look good quality but I am going to contact the tea company and check them out – probably full of petrochemical CRAP.

    Another non organic food to avoid is conventionally grown chocolate because typically it is not shade grown but grown in full sun. Full sun exposure all day long in tropical climate stresses the cacao trees – then these trees get infested with bugs and the growers spray tons of LINDANE. Lindane is a pesticide. Although allegedly “small” amounts of lindane are used on cacao trees – the average American eats 15 pounds of chocolate, so pesticide residue is accumulated. Plus the vast majority if chocolate grown in Africa is by child slave labor – so better to pay a bit more and buy Fair Trade, certified organic chocolate. Although Guittard is not certified organic/fair trade, they DO personally inspect the working conditions where the cacao is grown and screen carefully to insure no pesticides are used. Guittard contracts with small indie family cacao farmers. The Guittard chocolate company is based in the San Francisco Bay area and is family owned – dating back to the 19th centurty. The founder was a European immigrant, he came to SF. area, survived the SF earthquake and his great grandson runs the company. The have dark chocolate with 85%-90% cacao content and it is superlative!

    Colleen Whalen
    Food Literacy Educator
    Community Nutrition, Certified

  • Rosemary J says:

    Hi Max, I so appreciate your info … always extremely relevant. Thanks for insight into teas- quite eye opening! Thank you again, Rosemary

  • Vera Shaver says:

    Hi Max,

    I drink 2 cups of Choice Organic Classic Green Tea everyday I love it.

    Vera,

  • Trisha W says:

    I buy my organic teas from a locally owned brick and mortar who does mostly on -line sales.: Divinitea.com. Lots of varieties!

  • Anna says:

    Hello Max,
    Do you know if Teavana tea would be considered on the “bad” list for teas?

  • Ryan Stoddard says:

    I drink a lot of black teas. I’ve been drinking Tetley British Blend for years. My family is British. This last summer we had read a lot of information about teas and pesticides, so decided to change over to organic tea. The best I found is Choice brand Black tea. They have several varieties of tea. All organic. Good priced. And you can do a large order online! Try the Black Forest, love it!

  • Ed Hartz says:

    MAx:

    I have been following you for years now. From construction, real estate, and Wall Street, I went into whole foods-the unprocessed food business. Mostly plant derived water business. You are an asset to the community at large. It is people like you who can use the social entrepreneurial spirit to benefit society. The consumers, and where our food comes from. In the future after I launch again, I would be happy and honored to support your cause. The cause of the people. A mission to improve the food supply system. One person, one company, one cup of coffee or tea at a time. It will happen. You help make it happen faster rather than slower. You just don’t talk about it. You tell it like it is……. Thank you.

    Ed Hartz

  • Thank you for all your great information! I would also like to add the tea company SERENDIPATEA To the list of tea companies. They have a great line of organic teas.

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