Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Greenpeace: Chinese herbs tainted with pesticides 'not safe to consume'

By Wilfred Chan, for CNN
updated 1:54 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
A recent report by Greenpeace found
A recent report by Greenpeace found "harmful" levels of pesticides in Chinese herbs sold in popular retail stores.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Greenpeace: Of 65 herbs tested, 26 contained "highly hazardous" pesticides
  • Greenpeace: One herb contained over 500 times European safe limit of pesticide
  • NEW: Hong Kong Department of Health says it is "concerned about the findings"
  • Scientist says pesticides do not necessarily pose risk; boiling herbs can help

(CNN) -- From fighting common colds to cancer, Chinese herbal medicines have long been touted for their healing properties. But this week, environmental group Greenpeace says it found many herbs purchased from Chinese and Hong Kong retail stores contain alarming levels of harmful pesticides.

One herb, a sample of San Qi flower purchased from popular chain Beijing Tong Ren Tang, contained over 500 times the EU safety limit of a restricted pesticide. Another herb contained over 100 times that limit, according to the report. Beijing Tong Ren Tang did not return calls for comment.

Of the 65 herbs sampled by Greenpeace, 51 contained pesticides with 26 having chemicals classified as "extremely or highly hazardous" by the World Health Organization, it said.

"These herbs are of doubtful quality and not safe to consume," said Jing Wang, a Greenpeace project leader.

Where your used electronics go in China
Pollution causing cancer in this village?
Chinese snap up French vineyards

The pesticides pose significant risks for consumers and farmers, Greenpeace said. "We found some old, obsolete pesticides, with highly hazardous chemicals. Even a tiny dose can result in acute toxicity or sickness," said Wang. "Other pesticides can affect our immune system or hormones, and some may have an impact on children's brain development."

This is not the first time China has experienced a pesticide-related food scandal. In 2010, batches of cowpeas in Hainan province tested positive for a highly toxic pesticide, according to state media. Last month, an investigation by China Central Television (CCTV) found that farmers in Shandong province were using "three to six times" the recommended level of pesticides on ginger crops.

According to Greenpeace, China uses more pesticides than any other country in the world. Wang said the Chinese government has "no regulation or guidance" regarding the use of pesticides with herbal crops. "We want government agencies to strengthen the control, monitoring, and guidance of pesticide use," she said.

"The Hong Kong government has more standards than the mainland, but it's still not enough," she added.

Dr. Stephanie Ma, an expert on pesticides at the University of Hong Kong, said that Hong Kong generally has "adequate safeguards" to protect consumers from pesticides in food. "All pesticides are fully assessed by the regulatory authorities for safe use before registration," she said. A Hong Kong law scheduled to take effect in August 2014 will set further limits on pesticide residues in food.

Ma said pesticide levels that exceed standards set by the European Union "do not automatically indicate imminent health risk to consumers." Conclusions about risks cannot be drawn without taking into account consumers' "level of intake and consumption frequency," she added.

In a statement, the Hong Kong Department of Health said, "The Department of Health (DH) is concerned about the findings released by Greenpeace. DH is requesting Greenpeace to provide us with the full report for detail study. In particular, there is lack of information on the testing methods, testing standards and the testing laboratory which are needed to conduct an appropriate risk assessment."

"The DH has also in place a market surveillance system to obtain Chinese herbal medicine samples to test the levels of pesticide residues and heavy metals," it added. "So far no abnormal results have been detected from the decocted Chinese medicine samples."

The Chinese Ministry of Health did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Ma offered a simple piece of advice: "In general, the level of pesticide residues in a crop commodity will be reduced substantially following washing and processing: boiling in particular."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
See CNN's complete coverage on China.
updated 10:30 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
updated 5:11 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Is Xi Jinping a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
updated 11:44 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
updated 2:31 AM EDT, Fri July 4, 2014
26-year-old Ji Cheng is the first rider from China to compete for competitive cycling's highest honor.
updated 7:24 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
updated 12:14 AM EDT, Fri July 4, 2014
Hong Kong's narrow streets were once a dazzling gallery of neon, where banks and even bordellos plied their trade under sizzling tubular signs.
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
updated 7:59 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
Three more officials have been given the chop as part of China's anti-corruption drive, including former aides to the retired security chief.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
As thousands of Hong Kongers prepare for an annual protest, voices in China's press warn pro-democracy activism is a bad idea.
updated 12:37 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Hong Kongers are demanding the right to directly elect their next leader, setting up a face-off with Beijing.
updated 2:56 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Along a winding Chinese mountain road dotted with inns and restaurants is Jinan Orphanage, a place of refuge and site for troubled parents to dump unwanted children.
updated 4:36 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
CNN's Kristie Lu Stout invites Isaac Mao, Han Dongfang, and James Miles to discuss the rise of civil society in China and social media's crucial role.
updated 11:34 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
Chen Guangbiao wants rich people to give more to charity and he'll do anything to get their attention, including buying lunch for poor New Yorkers.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Architects are planning to build the future world's tallest towers in China. They're going to come in pretty colors.
updated 7:47 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Anna Coren visits Yulin's annual dog meat festival. Dogs are part of the daily diet here, with an estimated 10,000 dogs killed for the festival alone.
updated 2:38 AM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
People know little about sex, but are having plenty of it. We take a look at the ramifications of a lack of sex education in China.
updated 4:12 AM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
Hong Kongers have reacted angrily to a Chinese government white paper affirming Beijing's control over the territory.
The emphasis on national glory -- rather than purely personal achievement -- is key.
updated 12:14 PM EDT, Mon June 16, 2014
A replica of the Effel Tower in Tianducheng, a luxury real estate development located in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province.
What's the Eiffel Tower doing in China? Replica towns of the world's most famous monuments spring up all over China.
updated 8:13 PM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Rapid development hasn't just boosted the economy -- it has opened up vast swathes of the country, says a man who has spent much of his life exploring it.
updated 2:54 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
The World Cup is apparently making a lot of people "ill" in China.
ADVERTISEMENT