As we have learnt in part 1 of this article, buying “organic” tea might arguably be our best option to protect ourselves from the possible health hazards arising from the use of pesticides in tea cultivation, at least at first sight. A closer look reveals a different picture, though:
- “Paper doesn’t blush”, as they say, and the same applies to website contents to an even greater extent. While in some western countries, there are clear legal definitions available of what can be called “organic” and what not, this is not the case for the majority of countries in the world, so both brick-and-mortar and in particular online teashop operators can basically write what they want, if they are acting under the legislation of such countries. Honestly, I wouldn’t even bet on all “organic” statements in western shops being actually true, and being an insider to the industry, I do know that except for the random check by the relevant authorities and institutions, the loose-knit net of official monitoring allows for a lot of fraud in this regard to take place and evade detection. As a result, any organic claim not supported by a reputed certification, isn’t worth the paper or data sheet it is printed on. Where they say “organic tea”, they must have a certificate available that can be viewed on request, whether online or in a brick-and-mortar tea shop. Of course, it is tempting for a trader to call their teas “organic”, thus making them more popular, justifying higher prices, or actually make them look cheap, with no costs for the verification of their organic claim being involved.
- As stated above (in part 1 of this article), there are many hundreds of different pesticides that can be used in the cultivation of tea plants. Hardly any of the check lists used by organic tea certifiers will be able to cover them all. Actually, certifications can even be more than tricky, when covering only a certain range of pesticides, but completely omitting others that might in fact be commonly used in the relevant territories. The result would be an “organic certified tea” that in fact doesn’t have the slightest chance to be even close to being organic and might contain even some of the most hazardous pesticides. Regarding the factual levels of fraud and corruption on both official and private business level (and where these two levels meet and intertwine) in countries such as China, India, and many other tea producing countries, a nice official statement saying that “teas from this region are cultivated strictly to the principals of organic farming under the close supervision of blablabla” will be good to have as a hard copy, so you could still use it to wipe your ….
- And there is another, completely forgotten downside to “organic certification”. The process of certifying a tea as organic on a trustworthy and reputable level might be affordable on a certain company size or corporate level, but will not be accessible or otherwise feasible for the majority of small individual tea producers, and this is where things turn upside down: there might be (in fact are) small producers in all of these countries existing who really are aware of and observing a set of organic cultivation principles, the same often even being rooted in their traditional regional or tribal culture. Then, there are wild teas that are also not exposed to pesticides for obvious reasons. And you, who has finally come to trust some established and reputed organic tea certification, are going to miss all of their teas, just because their producers have no access to or cannot afford the certification process, or don’t see any point in the same, given their teas are organically grown anyway.
I am not even able to show any safe way out of the described dilemma. Raising awareness on the producer side and/or an efficient ban on the use of all potentially hazardous substances in tea cultivation on a unified international level might just be the only promising approaches to improvement, though yet far from perfection. In the meantime, if you do have health concerns in regard to the use of pesticides in tea cultivation, it might indeed be advisable to choose your sources carefully and maybe even on an individual basis for each of the teas you like and each of the teas you plan to try. And read between the lines, where they say it is organic…
See more of Thomas Kasper’s articles here.
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