Reading through the first two parts of this article, which had been planned as a 2-part article only, it came to me that two quite significant aspects regarding organic tea cultivation and organic certification of teas are missing there: once, the question of at which point in the supply chain the testing for an organic tea certification is to be performed, and second, how much of the pesticide residues in a tea will actually be taken in by humans drinking that tea.
The first aspect mentioned is a good part of what makes organic certification for teas as difficult and complex as it really is. Basically, we have 3 stages in the supply chain of tea: tea producer, tea trader (wholesaler), and tea retailer. Now, at which stage are we going to test and certify the organic properties of a tea?
If we are going to test a tea on the producer level, pesticide residues could at a later stage be added to the tea by blending it with contaminated tea. Moreover, where exactly are we going to take the tea sample to test here? From one bag of tea? From one batch? From one harvest? Or, in the best case, from a mixed sample that composes of samples of all batches and/or harvests through a year? And even then, are we going to repeat the same complex and expensive effort in the next year and in every next year again? And: who will draw the sample? Often, tea samples for testing are simply provided by the producer, or least with considerable involvement of the producer. Who will guarantee that such samples are not carefully selected to prove what wouldn’t be true at all for a real representative random sample, something that would compromise the whole assessment and certification process?
Drawing and testing samples at the trader level comes with all of the traps mentioned above for testing on producer level: which batch, which season, which year to test, and how to ensure the representativeness and uncompromised nature of the drawn sample?
Now, let’s go right into the tea shop: how many kilograms of a tea the average tea shop will sell through the year? One? Two? Five? Or even ten or twenty? Who is going to finance testing for one, two, five, ten, or twenty kg of tea? The shop owner? A funny idea, isn’t it?
I am not saying lab tests of teas aren’t contributing to safety. Where performed with due care and consideration of the above mentioned traps, the definitely will. But even then, as we have seen, there will still be holes for contamination with pesticides to take place and leak through to the final package of tea in the tea store shelve.
Now, the second point I wanted to mention, an argument we hear quite often recently, probably coming from the side of tea industry that doesn’t want to go the stony, expensive, and finally still unsafe path of certification (however, there’s something about it): only a small portion of the pesticide residues contained in tea leaves will make it into the actual tea beverage. Most will be stuck with the tea leaves, which are hardly ever being chewed and swallowed by the tea drinkers. Mostly, such as for example in the European Union, pesticide residues in tea leaves are measured exactly as this: pesticide residues in tea leaves, but not as pesticide residues in the actual tea (infusion), this taking its toll on the meaningfulness of their permissible limit values in the first place.
I do not want to be misunderstood here! I surely don’t want to advocate the use of pesticides in tea cultivation. And I would definitely welcome anything that would serve to reduce or even completely eliminate pesticide levels in teas. It is just that I believe that the current approach of organic certification serves this purpose only in a very suboptimal way. I might have said this at an earlier point in this article, but I still wish to repeat it once again: prevalence of organic principals in global tea cultivation can only be achieved by a thorough control or complete outlawing of the production and use of pesticides in the producer countries, and by the implementation of continuous efficient measures to raise awareness in this regard in these countries. This, however, will not be achieved in the chaos of national legislations dealing with an international market, but only if the relevant legislations are effective on the same international level as the market.
See more of Thomas Kasper’s articles here.
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