Unilever Says its China Teas are Safe

Traces of methomyl, a pesticide banned in China, were found in Lipton tea bag samples sent by Greenpeace to an independent laboratory.

Parent company Unilever announced that all its products are safe.

"As a responsible multinational company, Unilever China has all along upheld high quality and the protection of consumers' rights. All the Lipton tea products we make are completely in line with national standards on pesticide residue, and are safe and up-to-standard goods," the company wrote on its Weibo micro blog.

The company markets dozens of varieties of tea most of which is sourced outside China. No pesticides were found in black tea marketed by the company.

Greenpeace’s Wang Jing, the executive in charge of food and agriculture, countered that "despite their statement that their pesticides comply with national standards and that they are determined to minimize the amount of chemicals, the facts prove it is nothing but empty promises."

Reuters reported that “testing found that all four Lipton samples contained pesticides that exceeded the EU's maximum levels of residue, while three samples contained pesticides unapproved by the EU," according to Greenpeace. "Some of the detected pesticides are also banned for use in tea production by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture."

Earlier this month Greenpeace reported residue from 17 different pesticides was discovered in 18 samples of nine popular Chinese branded teas randomly obtained from markets in December and January.

In response, Weng Kun, general secretary of China’s National Tea Standardization Technical Committee, characterized the Greenpeace report as “misguided and lop-sided information.” The majority of pesticides are only slightly soluble in water,” he said. “It is safe to drink tea if the residues are kept under par,” Kun explained.

Pesticides banned in years ago can remain in soil to be absorbed by plants. The presence of residue in the leaf does not necessarily mean the product is unsafe.

In March, random samples of Lipton's black, green, jasmine and Tie Guan Yin teas were tested in Beijing. No pesticide residues were found in the black tea, but residue from 13 pesticides was found in the green and Tie Guan Yin tea and residue from nine in the jasmine tea, according to Greenpeace.

Wang said the tests were conducted by an independent, nationally qualified laboratory, but she declined to disclose its name to "ensure its independence".

Seven of the 17 pesticides that were found are prohibited in the European Union, including endosulfan and bifenthrin, which according to EU health officials might jeopardize men's fertility and fetal health.

"Lipton must immediately stop using highly toxic pesticides and must reduce the amount of pesticides used in tea fields," Wang said. "The company should also improve its source-tracing system to better follow the tracking of the tea and better guarantee food safety."

Unilever's statement said all of the raw materials for Lipton black tea products sold on the Chinese mainland are 100 percent imported.

Wang said that although some of the products comply with Chinese standards, they fail to meet EU standards.

"Such products would definitely be turned down by European markets," Wang said. "It's unfair that products that fall short of EU standards are sold to unknowing Chinese customers."

China is the world’s largest user of pesticides, with farmers around the country spraying 1.76 million tons of chemicals a year. The authorities have declared they aim to reduce nationwide pesticide use in 2015 by 20 percent, People’s Daily reports.

Source: China Daily, Reuters, Business Insider