Supermarkets: the buck stops here

Feature Story - 2009-11-20
Earlier this year we released a report which showed supermarkets across China were selling fruits and vegetables with toxic pesticide residues. This week the government responded.

Pesticides are like poison on your plate.

Below is our official reaction. It's rather formal and so here is a quick summary.

First off, we are pleased the government responded to our report.

It shows the ministry is taking food safety issues seriously.

Earlier this year we had sampled various fruits and vegetables and found many contained a cocktail of pesticide residues (see story here).

The government said all pesticides found were allowed in China and the residue concentrations were all under maximum limits.

But scientific research shows that pesticides are not only poisonous in the short term with high doses, but  long-term exposure to low levels of pesticides may also result in health problems.

China must move towards ecological agriculture - it works already in China in lots of places - to ensure both food safety for people and protection of the environment.

We also stress that supermarkets must play a leading role in getting suppliers to stop using so many chemicals and moving the country towards widespread ecological farming practices.

Here is our official statement.

Greenpeace welcomes the Ministry of Health's response to our latest report on pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables sold in Beijing's supermarkets released earlier this year.

We take this statement as a sign the government is seriously committed to ensuring food safety for its citizens.

The statement, on the ministry's website said that they had analysed our report but found that the 17 pesticides we identified were permitted in China and the concentration of residues found were within national standards.

While we stand by our research, we do appreciate the various steps the government has taken to strengthening food safety in China including the passing of a new food and safety law on June 1 this year.

Greenpeace believes that as supermarkets are the key source of food for many of China's population, they must play a leading role in ensuring the safety of the food they sell.

We have found, however, that supermarkets consistently shy away from their responsibility. Supermarkets have the power to pressure their suppliers to reduce chemical usage, including that of pesticides and chemical fertilisers.

We strongly urge supermarkets to use their position to push China's food and agriculture industry into sustainable ecological farming practices.

Since 2008, Greenpeace has been testing pesticide residues on various samples of fresh vegetables and fruits from supermarkets.

In December 2008 and February 2009, we tested fruits and vegetables from supermarkets in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou (namely Lotus, Wal-Mart, China Resources Vanguard, NGS, and two wet markets).

We found that out of 45 samples, a total of 40 samples were contaminated by 50 kinds of pesticide residues.  Of these, 25 samples had at least five different pesticides residues while another five had more than 10 different pesticide residues.

In May 2009, we tested Chinese cabbage, lettuce, small cabbage, shepherd's purse, and Hang cabbage from two vegetable farms in Qingpu District, Shanghai.

All samples contained residues of at least three kinds of pesticides.  One sample was tainted with 10 different kinds of pesticides.

In June 2009, Greenpeace tested melons, apples, peaches, nectarines and cherries from Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Lotus and the China Resources Vanguard in Beijing.

We found as many as 17 kinds of pesticide residues on 14 samples of fruits.

These test results clearly show that food producers are using a multitude of toxic pesticides.

While each individual pesticide residue did not exceed the national standard of "Maximum Level of Pesticide Residue in Food" (GB 2763-2005), scientific studies show that long-term exposure to even small doses of pesticides may increase health risks of diseases like cancer and endocrine system disorders.

It is the heavy reliance on chemical intensive agriculture that has created this dangerous situation.

Whether or not pesticide residues exceed national standards, they pose a very real threat to the environment and the sustainable development of agriculture in China.

There are several working examples of successful ecological agriculture in various parts of China today.

We believe ecological agriculture can produce high yields and is the only solution to China's food safety and environmental protection.

Greenpeace believes that we need a combined effort to address issues like food safety, consumer health and environmental protection.

We urge supermarkets to push suppliers to reduce pesticide use and adopt more eco-friendly technologies to control pests.

Ultimately, suppliers should switch to ecological agriculture.

Greenpeace is dedicated to the development of ecological agriculture in China.

We look forward to communicating with the Ministry of Health to better protect our country's food safety and the environment.