Exposed: toxic pesticides cocktail revealed in traditional Chinese herbs

Press release - 2013-06-24
Greenpeace East Asia tests on 65 traditional Chinese herbal products have exposed a toxic cocktail of pesticide residues, some of them illegal in China, highlighting the need to end the use of industrial agricultural chemicals.

The Greenpeace East Asia report, 'Chinese herbs: elixir of health or pesticides cocktail?', shows that Chinese herbal products were covered in pesticide residues considered highly hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Some of the residue levels were hundreds of times higher than EU food safety standards. (1)

"These test results expose the cracks in the current industrial agriculture system that is heavily reliant on toxic chemicals at the expense of human and environmental health," said Jing Wang, ecological farming campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.

"Chinese herbs are trusted and used as food ingredients for healing purposes by millions of people around the world. They are an iconic part of our heritage we must preserve. Chinese herbs should heal, not harm people and must be pesticide free."

Long-term exposure to pesticide residues in food may cause the toxic chemicals to accumulate inside the body. Chronic pesticides poisoning may lead to learning difficulties, hormone disruption and reproductive abnormalities.

The residues found on Chinese herbs comes after a similar findings on tea in China and is a stark reminder of the intensive use of agricultural chemicals both in China and globally. Annual sales of agricultural chemicals doubled globally between 2000 and 2009 and are projected to grow by almost 3% per year until 2050.

The herbal products tested include wolfberries, honeysuckle, Sanqi flowers, chrysanthemum and were purchased from nine stores, such as Tongrentang and Yunnanbaiyao, in nine cities across China between August 2012 and April 2013. Nine samples showed more than 20 different kinds of pesticide residues.

Greenpeace East Asia urges the Chinese government to impose stricter controls on pesticide use, commit to a road map to reduce the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture and allocate appropriate funds to support ecological farming.  Also, Greenpeace is calling on companies to publicly disclose all pesticides used in the production of Chinese herbs and to provide a timeline aimed at reducing their usage.

"Global farming is dominated by 'ugly food', the industrial agriculture model that damages the environment with toxic chemicals and poses threats to human health," said Eric Darier, senior ecological farming campaigner at Greenpeace International.

"Ecological farming represents a more environmentally and human friendly agriculture model, which is not reliant on toxic chemicals but on natural pest management techniques that ensure healthy food for today and tomorrow. We must start this ecological path now."


(1) The report exposes how:

  • 51 different types of pesticides residues were found on 65 sampled products;
  • 6 illegal pesticides in China (phorate, carbofuran, fipronil, methamidophos, aldicarb and ethoprophos) were found on 26 (40%) of the samples;
  • 10 pesticides classified by the World Health Organization as extremely or highly hazardous were found on 26 (40%) of the samples. Among them, extremely hazardous pesticides (class Ia): aldicarb, ethoprophos and phorate; and highly hazardous pesticides (class Ib): Carbofuran, Cyfluthrin, Methamidophos, Methidathion, Methomyl, Omethoate Triazophos.
  • Some pesticide residues were found in extremely high concentrations. For example, the fungicide thiophanate-methyl residue on the San Qi Flower was 500 times over the safety limit according to European maximum residue limits (MRLs) and thiophanate-methyl residue on honeysuckle was over 100 times that limit.


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Jing Wang, Greenpeace East Asia food and agriculture senior campaigner, or +86 138 1180 5896

Eric Darier, Greenpeace International ecological farming senior campaigner, +1 514 605-6497 or (in Washington time zone)

Greenpeace International pressdesk: +31 (0)20 718 24 70 or