Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

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

By Wilfred Chan, for CNN
June 27, 2013 -- Updated 0554 GMT (1354 HKT)
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
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 0654 GMT (1454 HKT)
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1454 GMT (2254 HKT)
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 0229 GMT (1029 HKT)
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 0020 GMT (0820 HKT)
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0707 GMT (1507 HKT)
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0109 GMT (0909 HKT)
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
September 28, 2014 -- Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 0257 GMT (1057 HKT)
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 0538 GMT (1338 HKT)
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT