Tea is one of the most popular drinks enjoyed around the world.
Americans drink up to 80 billion cups of tea a year while their Canadian neighbors drink almost 10 billion cups of tea a year (1,2).
Since tea is often praised as a healthy drink, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) decided to investigate whether or not the most popular tea brands contained traces of pesticides in their products that could undermine the health benefits of the tea.
They found out that an inspection done by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) three years ago concluded that 1 in 4 teas contained pesticide residue far above the safety limit set by Health Canada. Both the dry leaves and steeped tea contained these traces.
To find out if the worst offenders are still on the market, CBC hired an accredited lab to retest some of Canada’s most popular brands, including Lipton, Red Rose, Tetley, and Twinings.
The full list includes:
- Twinings – Earl Grey
- Tetley – green tea
- Lipton – yellow label black tea
- Signal – orange pekoe
- Uncle Lee’s Legends of China – jasmine green tea
- King Cole – orange pekoe
- No Name – black tea
- Uncle Lee’s Legends of China – green tea
- Lipton – pure green tea
- Red Rose – orange pekoe
They rigorously followed the testing method employed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to ensure accurate results.
The investigation revealed that half the teas had traces of pesticides higher than the legal limit in Canada. Some even contained pesticides banned worldwide.
Pesticides In Tea: The 3 Worst Offenders!
6/10 of the teas tested contained a cocktail of pesticides, but each was below Canadian limits. These three, however, were way above these guidelines.
1. Twinings Earl Grey
This classic tea is considered a relatively high quality bagged tea. However, it placed third highest in pesticide content. Most alarmingly, this tea was repeatedly found to contain acetamiprid, a poison that causes severe nausea and vomiting, muscle weakness, hypothermia, convulsions, and hypoxia in small quantities (3).
2. Tetley Green Tea
Tetley green tea has been shown to contain both acetamiprid and chlorfenapyr, which is fatal in small quantities. Chlorfenapyr has delayed effects, causing death or damage to the central nervous system up to two weeks after ingestion. The CBC report showed that Tetley’s tea had 18 pesticides in its finished product, 3 over the allowable limit (4).
3. Uncle Lee’s Legends of China green tea
Uncle Lee’s Legends of China is the most toxic tea sold in Canadian grocery stores. It contained the same pesticides as Tetley as well as dangerous levels of Bifenthrin, a known carcinogen. It contained traces of 22Pesticides, 6 of which in illegal quantities (5).
It’s far from the only Chinese tee with illegal pesticides. Countless Chinese tea producers routinely use pesticides banned by China’s Ministry of Agriculture (6).
The Unexpected Winner
Of all the teas tested by CBC, Red Rose was the only brand that contained zero pesticides. The tea brand has made many efforts in recent years to be more ecofriendly and ethical. It has now received Rainforest Alliance Certification and Fair Trade Certified (6).
This proves that it is possible for a profitable business to give its customers pesticide-free products at a large scale.
Health Canada’s Response
Despite the alarming results revealed by the investigation, Health Canada insists that these pesticides aren’t a public health concern.
“Health Canada reviewed the information provided by Marketplace and for the pesticides bifenthrin, imidacloprid, acetamiprid, chlorfenapyr, pyridaben, acephate, dicofol and monocrotophos determined that consumption of tea containing the residues listed does not pose a health risk based on the level of residues reported, expected frequency of exposure and contribution to overall diet. Moreover, a person would have to consume approximately 75 cups of tea per day over their entire lifetime to elicit an adverse health effect,” a spokesperson wrote to the CBC in a statement.
But not everyone agrees :”This is very worrisome from a number of perspectives,” environmental lawyer David Boyd told CBC.
“I think that’s a complete abdication of CFIA’s responsibility to protect Canadian people. The reality is that there is emerging science about the impacts of pesticides at very low concentrations,” he says.
“The whole point of pesticides is that they’re chemically and biologically active in parts per million or parts per billion…Pesticides can have adverse effects at what are seemingly very small concentrations.”
Choosing Pesticide Free Tea
The simplest way to avoid sipping on pesticides in tea (or other unwanted substances) along with your tea is by choosing loose-leaf unflavored organic products.
“Natural” or “herbal” teas that are not certified organic won’t be any better than the teas tested above, so make sure to read the labels carefully. Flavored teas will likely contain unwanted additives like soy lecithin and natural or artificial flavors.
It’s also worth noting that tea bags can be made of plastic fibers that leak hormone-disrupting toxins into your cup (7).
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