Pesticides: not your problem?

Feature Story - 2009-04-09
Hungry? Well, you won’t be after you watch our video below on pesticide use in China or hear about our latest research which puts big name supermarkets to shame.

Pesticides are like poison on your plate.

We've known for a long time that pesticides not only kill pests but they also poison our food.

Pesticides have been linked to cancer and fertility problems as well as other frightening long-term health effects.

And China uses a lot of pesticides.

Last month, Greenpeace China sent 45 samples of fruits and vegetables to an independent laboratory to find out how serious the problem was.

The results are very scary.

A poisonous cocktail

Only five samples out of our total of 45 had no pesticides.

We found 50 different kinds of pesticides on the rest.

Many of the samples had two or more traces of pesticide residues, some up to 10!

The problem of multi-pesticide use is very serious. Many farmers have no idea what that cocktail of poisons does to the environment, themselves or to us.

Thirty-four samples had traces of at least three different pesticides; of those 25 had five different kinds; and we even found five samples contaminated with more than 10 different chemicals. These five samples are all from supermarkets.

While individually the pesticides are pretty toxic, no one knows the full effect if they're found mixed together. Some research seems to indicate that the effect could be even more serious.

This kind of poisoning can't be totally washed off under the tap.

China pesticides from Greenpeace China on Vimeo.

How did we do this research?

In December last year and February this year we bought commonly-eaten fruit and vegetables from wet markets and four supermarkets - Wal-Mart, Vanguard, Lotus and Nonggongshang -- in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing.

We tested foods like tangerines, strawberries, tomatoes, beans, cabbages and spinach.

Pesticides residues were found across all samples and from all areas showing the problem is nationwide.

Shame on the big name supermarkets

What is even more shocking is that the fruits and vegetables from big name supermarkets like Lotus, Vanguard and Wal-Mart are even more polluted than those collected from the wet markets.

These big chains have a responsibility to their customers to offer clean and safe food.

Those vegetables with illegal pesticide traces and those with 10 different pesticides were all from supermarkets and not wet markets.

Highly toxic

To give a sense of how poisonous these chemicals are we checked the pesticides that turned up positive with international lists of toxic chemicals.

•The Pesticide Action Network UK lists more than 160 pesticides that have been linked to cancer.

We found 21 of them on 40 samples in our research.

And 33 of those had more than one of these chemicals and with eight having five of them!

•The European Union lists 91 pesticides as potential disruptors of the hormone system. This system is vital for health. These chemicals may affect fertility and may impact the development of babies.

Some 38 of our samples contained traces of these kinds of pesticides.

•The World Health Organisation has a list of highly hazardous pesticides.

We found five of those on nine samples in our shopping, including two of which are banned by the Chinese government.

Traces of banned carbofuran were found on cow peas and cucumber.

Methamidophos, also banned, and classified as 'highly hazardous' by the WHO, was also found on cow peas and on capsella (green leafy vegetable).

So what can we do?

It's obvious that using so many pesticides has to stop.

We have always argued that eco-agriculture, or organic farming, is the only way to ensure that chemicals don't contaminate our food.

But organic fruits and vegetables are expensive.

We are urging supermarkets to step up checks of their produce to make sure that the food they stock isn't contaminated by pesticides. They owe it to their customers to only stock safe food.

We are also urging supermarkets to put pressure on their suppliers to use less pesticides and pursue organic farming methods.

As organic farming becomes more widespread the cost of organic food will fall.

And we are urging Chinese consumers to put pressure on their supermarkets to make sure they stop stocking fruits and vegetables soaked in dangerous chemicals.

If you live in Beijing you may want to check our Organic Food Guide.

Join us

Stay in touch with our projects like our food safety campaign by signing up for Greenpeace e-news alerts.

Help us

We fund our research and campaigns with money from people like you. We don't accept money from governments or corporations for fear of compromising our independence. Please support our fight for a clean and safe world.