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Reports reveal that the teas of leading international brands contain hazardous pesticides, putting at risk consumers’ health, as well as the lives of farmers exposed to pesticides. A shift in the approach of the tea sector to production and processing is urgently needed to save human lives and preserve consumers’ health, as well as the biodiversity in and around tea plantations.

According to a report published last week by Greenpeace India, large numbers of branded tea samples tested positive for a cocktail of pesticides, some of which are not approved for the cultivation of tea in India. The Greenpeace study clearly points out that Indian tea cultivation is stuck in a pesticide treadmill. The report is preceded by a similar one, carried out in China two years ago, that showed that the dependence of tea production on toxic chemicals is a global problem. India is the largest tea consumer worldwide. The impact of pesticides from crop to cup is therefore all the more serious and needs urgent corrective action on part of the companies selling branded tea in India.

“Tea produced by leading tea brands in India contains pesticides and consumers could potentially be subjected to hazardous health impacts in the long run”, cautions Mathew John, Director of Keystone Foundation (India) and World Board member of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).
“We should not allow this precious product to be produced in a way that compromises people’s health, especially the tea workers and poisons our environment.”

IFOAM is ready to offer its expertise to help the global tea sector step off the pesticide treadmill, using the organic alternative. Organic Agriculture offers a science-based solution by which toxic chemicals can be gradually phased out. With organic farming techniques in soil, water and biodiversity conservation, as well as integrated and sustainable farm management, farmers can produce healthy ecosystems besides tea without harming people’s health.

Alongside third party certification, sometimes too costly for small farmers in developing countries, IFOAM promotes group certification schemes and participatory guarantee systems to link to both international and domestic markets.  Thanks to these tools hundreds of thousands of family farms in developing countries have shifted to organic farming and improved their livelihoods. Safe tea production is sustainable and productive with small tea growers as well. Markets must seriously consider these small tea growers as part of their larger strategy, increasing sustainable methods of cultivation of tea by leveraging the collective strength of small-scale tea growers.

IFOAM welcomes the commitment expressed by Unilever and Girnar as a result of Greenpeace’s actions. Yet, IFOAM calls on companies to be ambitious when adopting their sustainability standards for farming:
“If these businesses are ready to lead the transformation of our global food system into a sustainable one, they should adopt a holistic approach, like organic production”, suggests Mr. John.
“The tea industry should set a trend for other food sectors and declare itself pesticide-free, following the recent example of some states in India.”