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
See CNN's complete coverage on China.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Is Xi Jinping a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0344 GMT (1144 HKT)
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.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0631 GMT (1431 HKT)
26-year-old Ji Cheng is the first rider from China to compete for competitive cycling's highest honor.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0414 GMT (1214 HKT)
Hong Kong's narrow streets were once a dazzling gallery of neon, where banks and even bordellos plied their trade under sizzling tubular signs.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
Three more officials have been given the chop as part of China's anti-corruption drive, including former aides to the retired security chief.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
As thousands of Hong Kongers prepare for an annual protest, voices in China's press warn pro-democracy activism is a bad idea.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 0437 GMT (1237 HKT)
Hong Kongers are demanding the right to directly elect their next leader, setting up a face-off with Beijing.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0656 GMT (1456 HKT)
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
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.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0836 GMT (1636 HKT)
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.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0334 GMT (1134 HKT)
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.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Architects are planning to build the future world's tallest towers in China. They're going to come in pretty colors.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
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.
June 19, 2014 -- Updated 0638 GMT (1438 HKT)
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.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 0812 GMT (1612 HKT)
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.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
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.
June 11, 2014 -- Updated 0013 GMT (0813 HKT)
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.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0654 GMT (1454 HKT)
The World Cup is apparently making a lot of people "ill" in China.
ADVERTISEMENT