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Chinese Herbs: Health Remedy or Pesticides Cocktail?

Health + Wellness

Greenpeace

By Eric Darier

Traditional Chinese herbs have a strong reputation for their medicinal benefits, but a Greenpeace East Asia investigation has revealed that these herbs are coated in a toxic cocktail of pesticide residues, posing long-term health risks instead.

A farmer from the Miao minority sprays pesticide on his pseudo-ginseng field. Dehou Town, Wenshan County, Yunnan Province. Wenshan is the origin and the main production area of pseudo-ginseng and accounts for almost 98 percent of China's total yield. Photo credit: Simon Lim / Greenpeace

In China, these herbal products are extensively used in daily cooking and are part of the country's culinary heritage. Many people add ginseng, red dates or chrysanthemums, for example, to their soups or tea to cure various health problems.

These herbs are also consumed outside China by people looking for alternative medicines in a global market estimated to be worth US$60 billion annually and growing swiftly.

In its report, Greenpeace East Asia explains how it tested 65 samples of Chinese herbal products and found them to be coated in pesticide residues—some of them banned in China.

Many herbal products are cultivated using chemical-intensive agriculture methods and are no longer picked in the wild—another example of the dominant chemical-based industrial agriculture system and its failure to deliver toxic-free foods.

A farmer from the Miao minority pours a cocktail of pesticides into a sprayer to prepare for spraying his pseudo-ginseng farm. Dehou Town, Wenshan County, Yunnan Province. Wenshan is the origin and the main production area of pseudo-ginseng and accounts for almost 98 percent of China's total yield. Photo credit: Simon Lim / Greenpeace

Some of the pesticides detected in the Greenpeace East Asia investigation are considered "highly hazardous" by the World Health Organization (WHO). Some herbal products had residue levels that would breach European food safety standards.

The WHO and European authorities have already ranked or banned some pesticides because of indications that exposure to some of them via food poses health risks due to bioaccumulation in the body. Chronic pesticide poisoning may lead to learning difficulties, hormone disruption and reproductive abnormalities.

Greenpeace champions ecological farming as a more environmentally and human friendly solution to industrial agriculture, and opposes the widespread industrial agriculture model that damages the environment with toxic chemicals and poses threats to human health.

Ecological farming does not rely on chemical pesticides but on natural pest management techniques, rotation and diverse cropping to ensure healthy, nutritious and sufficient food for people while protecting our environment, water and wildlife from toxic poisoning.

A farmer shows off his crop of 'Sanqi' at an open market in Wenshan, Yunnan Province. Panax pseudo-ginseng, or 'Sanqi', is well reputed since the ancient times for its effect of quickening blood flow, dissolving stasis, and eliminating swelling and pains. Wenshan is the origin and main production area ofpanax pseudo-ginseng. Photo credit: Simon Lim / Greenpeace

Greenpeace East Asia is urging the Chinese government to impose stricter supervision and control of illegal pesticides, provide clear pesticides reduction timelines and commit to a road map to fully phase out chemical pesticides in agriculture. Additionally, we call on the Chinese authorities to divert financial funding towards more ecological farming practices.

We must walk this ecological path now to preserve the future of traditional herbal medicine and food production in China and globally. The challenge to switch to ecological farming and away from chemicals-based agriculture is one that all governments need to embrace.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

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