Uncovering the Truth: Is Tea Full of Pesticides?

Truth or Fiction: Tea is Full of Pesticides Most days the news is full of stories about the health b
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18 responses to “Uncovering the Truth: Is Tea Full of Pesticides?”

  1. Katrina, thank you for clarifying the pesticide in tea information. I do want to suggest that there are farmers who don’t use pesticides on their tea and we are one of them. We (Onomea Tea Co.) are certified organic and have not used any pesticides on our plants at all. We are fortunate to be starting a tea industry in Hawaii that doesn’t seem to have some of the pests that other places have. As the industry grows here, maybe we’ll have more of a problem but for now we are pesticide free and plan to stay that way. Aloha…

    Rob Nunally
    Onomea Tea Company

    • Thanks for the comment, Rob. Always great to hear from you. Yes, it is true that some farmers do not use pesticides and this is exactly why it is important to do your research and talk to growers. On another site a grower mentioned that Kenya is also pesticide-free. In the end, it helps to know who uses pesticides and who does not, but also how much risk we should attribute to the use, especially when we look at our entire food supply.

  2. Dear Katrina:
    Another well-written article and a very interesting point of view. However, it seems to imply that Glaucus has skewed their research which is a very serious allegation.

    I’d like your opinion on this very convincing video, which points out untrue statements that employees of Teavana are passing on to their customers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbEqT5khtyM

    I have found no research that tested Tevana’s teas that indicate otherwise. If it exists, I’d be interested to read it.

    Pesticides are well-researched carcinogens. I believe that we need to encourage people to be very careful about from whom, they buy their tea. Like you say, even Organic is not a guarantee. I think it is best to buy directly for reputable farms.

    Dr. Michael Longo, DC
    Onomea Tea Company

    • Thank you for commenting. Let me be clear. I am not saying that Glaucus skewed their data. What I am saying is that anytime research is presented, potential conflicts of interest should be acknowledged. Glaucus did this in their report. The subsequent blog posts did not.

      I will be interested to view the link you presented and I am following up on uncovering any testing done by Teavana. I will be sure to share anything else I find.

      Finally, you have highlighted one of my key points and I thank you for that. Many synthetic (and natural) pesticides are potential carcinogens. Researching your farms, suppliers and sources is the best way to ensure that you purchase a product you can believe in. I commend Onomea for its commitment to promoting Hawaiian tea and for growing it without pesticide use.

  3. I also want to point out that there’s still a debate with the so called “carcinogens”. Their discovery involves very high doses administered to rats, and that’s where the problem lies: the dose makes the poison. At sufficiently high doses most substances become harmful, but in low doses they are harmless.

    This article just came out today:

    • low doses of poisons dont make them safer since many chemicals bioaccumulate and cause or contribute to health problems later in life. In fact using the whole “its such a tiny amount of poison it wont hurt you” is not only false assurance against fears of health repercussions but its absurd on the surface: who WANTS to be eating or drinking ANY poisons at all??? So we’re just supposed to accept it as an inevitable consequence of living in the modern world??? I dont feeng think so!

      • Not all substances behave like mercury and lead, which bioaccumulate.
        But you’re right, why poison yourself? I assure you that if you eat a balanced diet of non organic food, you’ll do much better than if I eat a lot of organic food that is high in salt, sugar and fat.
        Other things to add to the long list of “poisons”: sunlight, over-the-counter drugs, cosmetics, vitamins, carbon dioxide, etc.

  4. A few years ago it was discovered a tea company was using army trucks parked above drying tea while running to facilitate dessication. This resulted in huge amounts of lead on the tea.

    Regarding the claims…

    Claim 1: The discussion is much more nuanced than this, and for myriad reasons the Chinese tea ceremony involves washing a tea first. These days, even if i believe a tea to be clean, i will wash it with cold water to preserve as much of the flavor/alkaloids as possible.

    Claim 2: It is the job of short sellers to investigate stock market participants for fraud. That IS their agenda. I too have tested US teas and Chinese “organic” teas, finding significant levels of lead(Pb) and DDT and more obscure and dangerous pesticides among Chinese sourced teas, especially from fields planted after 1960 under which were laid fabric sheets treated with pesticide. So this is a huge issue for the industry, potentially changing the world’s most healthy drink into a poison. It is about time these silly commercial labels such as organic, green, free-trade get some short sellers to their party.

    Claim 3: Agree 120%! There is no substitute for knowing where a tea comes from: the trees, water, soil, hands, tools and machines and other methods that produce it. Not only does this let one know potential dangers but it also helps one find new pleasurable tastes in a tea.

    • Thanks for your comment, Actea. Lead and other heavy metals and chemicals deliberately or inadvertently making their way into the tea supply is an important consideration. I plan on doing more research and reporting on some of these issues in the future.

      I understand your point about washing tea and it is something I do with some teas. Originally I began washing teas to “awaken” them and prepare them for steeping. Some teas I now rinse more as a matter of preference and precaution. It is worth consideration.

      Yes, short sellers are charged with finding problems with companies and some of these companies do us a service with their efforts. Again, the problem is NOT the motivation necessarily, nor is even their report as they were very upfront with their interests in the results. It is that the findings were then transmitted far and wide through blogs and websites without also communicating the company’s potential conflict.

      Thanks for reading. I’d be very interested in seeing your research and testing results if they have been published or shared somewhere.

  5. Thanks for your article Katrina. I would like to add that when pesticides are applied, naturally we assume that insects are problematic. What is never mentioned is that there is significant amounts of tea, especially tea produced in China, where insects are not a problem. These are teas of superior quality that are produced in the early spring in colder climates or at higher altitudes prior to insect season, which in most places comes later in the year during the warmer summer months. Of course these teas are more expensive than tea sold by major tea companies where price and quantity are the major purchasing considerations. There is very little cheap tea grown anywhere in the world that can not use pesticides organic or otherwise in tea production. China is always called out as the worst offender, and while it is true you can find some agregious practices in the manufactoring of cheap tea, China still weeds primarily by hand, while the rest of the world uses herbicides in tea growing to control weeds. I am always amazed that there is very little mention of this practice. China produces more tea were no chemicals at all are used than any other country in the world. Why this fact is never mentioned can only be explained as xenophobia. It is also true that no where on earth is no plant grown that does not have chemicals residues because of the atmosphere that we all share.

    While I agree with you that a company should know the sources of their tea, but that is a much more difficult thing to do than it sounds. It is true that it is one of our business principles, but it is a very inefficient way to source, very expensive for a small company, and difficult to manage for a large company where large quantities are involved, especially where blending is involved. Cheap tea and cheap food come at a cost to the environment and comprises when it comes to the requirement of pesticides to be used in production. The dangers seem to be largely perceptions supported by very little evidence that tea consumption is harmful. When Seven Cups sources tea that is grown without the use of chemicals, we are motivated by supplying quality, rather than motivated by fears of contamination.

    I want to say. How much I appreciate you objective approach to writing about tea.

  6. Simple question: does Celestial Seasonings tea contain pesticides? Should be a simple yes or no answer.

    • Hi Gene,
      Celestial Seasonings tea does not contain pesticides. The tea has tested positive for residue (chemical components indicating pesticides were present). The pesticide residue was below the legally defined Maximum Residue Level (MRL).

  7. We don’t hear much from the US news media about pesticides in our teas and coffees. The CBC program Marketplace did a study recently on teas available in Canada (it’s a North American market) and the results were astonishing. It’s good reading, or simply watch the video.

    The published report available online is found at:

    The original CBC program that was broadcast is available in the States on Youtube:

  8. Hello Folks.
    So far, I have still not seen any study that contradicts the Glaucus study which IMO was an objective study. I guess that some people in the tea industry will minimize the study if it affects their business. However, from my point of view, we should all be concerned about this. Unfortunately, many people hold the economy, particularly their personal economy, as more important than health. What those people perhaps don’t want to face up to is that growing health concerns, and rising health costs, will also affect the economy deleteriously.

    I guess you could say, that my opinion is not objective because I am an Organic, pesticide free, Tea Manufacturer, but I am speaking the truth and I am just one of many who are willing to speak out about this. Being organic farmers is our way of walking the talk.

    You might believe that pesticides are harmless, but the scientific research has demonstrated otherwise. You can reason it away as just “rat studies’, or think that the pesticides somehow don’t end up in your cup,. The reality is that the tested teas in question have higher than allowable levels of pesticides in them…in the actual tea leaves. Now how that wouldn’t end up in your cup, is beyond me. I think most folks will take this very seriously when apprised of the truth.

    The bottom line is this: If you want to avoid pesticides in your cup, be sure that you are getting your Tea from pesticide free sources. This could also force India, China and other places to re-think their use of pesticides. Vote with your money.

    At Onomea Tea we recently had our tea tested for over 200 pesticides by a certified company, Avomeem, and our tea was without trace of any pesticide residue. We, and many others, have proven that it can be done. Yes we are just a small company and our teas are limited so we have very little impact on the tea industry as a whole. Nevertheless, we know, for certain, that pesticide free tea is possible to manufacture.

    We want to encourage this type of sustainable tea farming without the use of pesticides. We do have insects but we like to say that we share with them. We find that infestations are cyclical and self-limiting. If the tea trees are healthy, they survive. About 70 % of our plants are seedlings and we cull out weak plants, and propagate only strong and healthy ones if, when tested, they make flavorful tea. Yes, this does decrease production a bit. The emphasis being more on quality and a bit less on productivity. Obviously, both are important but IMO, too much quality is sacrificed by the use of pesticides.

    Michael Longo, D.C.
    Onomea Tea Company

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