Storm in a teacup

A recent report of the non-profit environmental organisation Greenpeace India which claimed that a number of brands of Indian tea contained unacceptable levels of pesticide residues has caused concern.

Greenpeace has said that the study was conducted over a period of one year from 2013 to 2014 in which 49 branded packets from prominent companies were tested. It says the presence of pesticides which have been classified as highly hazardous and moderately hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO) was detected in the samples. Sixty seven per cent of the samples showed the presence of DDT which has been banned for use in agriculture since 1989.

According to the report, the tests showed the presence of many toxic chemicals which have not been approved for use in tea crops in the country. They have detrimental effects on both humans and animals. 

The Tea Board of India has refuted the findings of the report and asserted that the tea industry complies with all Indian laws and regulations and its practices were designed to protect the interests of consumers by adherence to the best standards. Some companies have threatened legal action against Greenpeace too, but the organisation has stuck to its report.

Last year it had released the results of a similar study conducted on Chinese tea. It had also found unhealthy levels of pesticide content in the samples. Tea has to be free of any toxic content. It is a major export item also. Exports will be affected if it is proved that tea contains residues of toxic materials. After the release of the report, Bhutan has said that it would conduct tests on Indian tea to find out if the Greenpeace claims are correct. 

The Tea Board and the companies have also said that they had taken many steps to make tea cultivation sustainable and environment-friendly. It has been stated that the aim is to progressively reduce the use of pesticides. One company has also said that it has a plan to completely eliminate the use of pesticides by 2020.

It was also announced by a company that it would involve Greenpeace in the progress of its efforts to reduce the use of pesticides. While the Tea Board and the industry assert that there is compliance with the standards laid down in India, there is the question whether these standards are stringent enough and conform to those in other parts of the world. 

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