Your Facebook questions answered: Should I be concerned about pesticides in tea?

Marco Verch

 

In my last post, I responded to the questions about both chicory tea and decaffeinated teas. In part 2, I’ll tackle those pesky and persistent rumours about pesticides in tea.

This issue keeps coming up, in spite of evidence showing they’re not a concern. Apparently this dates to both a CBC Marketplace story back in 2014 and a widely shared Facebook post in 2016.

The CBC program stated that testing of some brands of teas sold in Canada revealed a small number of cases where pesticide residues exceeded maximum limit (MRLs) set by Health Canada.

But when it comes to MRLs, there’s something important to keep in mind: These levels are set well below what is called the no effect level for humans – often 100 to 1000 times below.

Health Canada responded to the program by stating,

“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.”

OK – I know that if you are familiar with my writing about Health Canada over the years, I’ve offered up plenty of criticisms of this government agency. So let’s take the issue of pesticides a step further for an outside perspective.

Snopes.com covered the issue in quite a bit of detail and when you look beneath the surface, there’s more to the story than meets the eye. The tea-pesticide issue received a lot of attention due to an American blogger’s Facebook post in 2016, one that was shared over a million times. It alleged that various popular brands of tea supplied dangerous levels of pesticides. Besides the fact that the testing methods were five years out of date back then, the blogger wrote about other brands that were supposedly healthier – brands that she received compensation for if her readers purchased the products she linked to.

Hmmm – Facebook being used for other means than the truth. Yet again.

Snopes also looked at two of the explicit claims made by the CBC program.

• “Over half of all teas tested had pesticide residues that were above the legally acceptable limit

Snopes states the first claim was false, as not a single chemical identified by the CBC, in cases for which an MRL had been set, was “above the legally acceptable limit.” Check the Snopes chart for each chemical CBC named compared to those chemicals’ MRLs in both the United States and Canada. These are the only chemicals that could possibly be “above an acceptable limit,” since they actually have such limits set. None of them came anywhere close to exceeding those established limits

• “A large majority of these pesticides are currently being banned in several countries.

Snopes states that this claim is also false. Though around half of the chemicals identified by the CBC program had no MRLs set for them, this does not necessarily mean their use was banned, just that its presence was not approved for dried tea. Of all the chemicals identified by the CBC, only one of the chemicals, endosulfan, appeared on the Rotterdam Convention list of pesticides “that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons by” several countries.

However, that chemical was legally allowed in Canadian tea at the time of the CBC’s tests, and the levels identified by the CBC were four orders of magnitude lower than the current U.S. maximum allowable limits.

When it comes to our food and drink choices these days, it certainly seems as though you need to take what you hear with a grain of salt.

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Tags: , , , ,

Categories: Food Safety, Your Questions Answered

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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2 Comments on “Your Facebook questions answered: Should I be concerned about pesticides in tea?”

  1. Jennifer Burnham
    January 7, 2019 at 4:59 pm #

    Once again, Rosie – well done! Bravo. And a million thanks for your work. Very much appreciated.

    • January 15, 2019 at 2:03 pm #

      My pleasure, Jennifer! And once again, thank you for bringing up a topic that so many are interested in! Keep them coming!

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