Tea companies respond

After testing of tea conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 2009 and 2011 revealed amounts of pesticides residue on teas above what’s allowed by Health Canada, Marketplace commissioned our own testing to see if teas with these amounts of pesticide residue are still on the shelf.

Marketplace bought 10 popular brand-name teas and sent them to an accredited laboratory. The lab found  half of the teas tested had levels of pesticide residue above the allowable limits in Canada. In addition, some of the teas tested positive for pesticides which are in the process of being banned worldwide because of their negative impact on the environment and workers health.

In the course of our investigation, Marketplace contacted the Tea Association of Canada and the companies whose teas we tested. We shared our results with them and invited them to comment. In response we received a written statement from Unilever who owns both Lipton and Red Rose Tea and  TATA Global Beverages who owns Tetley, the largest selling brand in Canada. In its statement Unilever wrote:

"Unilever is fully confident in the safety of our teas.  We work cooperatively with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada ,and  -- on a global basis -- other regulatory agencies such as those in Europe and the United States.  The CFIA conducted three studies from 2009 to 2013 regarding agricultural residues in tea, and our products have been found safe."

In its statement TATA Global Beverages said:

"Like all agricultural crops, including fresh vegetables, fruits and grains, tea undergoes strict quality checks and is tested and monitored extensively – using industry-leading batch testing methods – to ensure it meets the guidelines set out in Canada’s food safety legislation.

Our company retains an independent, third party to collect representative samples from every tea shipment for testing in an expert accredited laboratory. When batch-testing is complete and meets our strict quality standards, the tea is then shipped to our tea blending facility, where it is packed into teabags.

Consumer safety is very important to us. Upon receiving your communication, we proactively retrieved the test results from the independent laboratory that tested the raw tea used in this batch code which confirmed that our tea complies with all Canadian food safety regulations and is of high quality."

Marketplace also asked the Tea Association of Canada for an on camera interview. They declined and instead sent us a statement saying:

"In Canada, the Tea Association continues to work with the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Group (IGG) on Tea, which is spearheading an agreement to harmonize pesticide standards, making tea production safer for consumers and protecting the livelihoods of millions of smallholder producers worldwide.

Consumers should continue to consume and enjoy the many varieties of tea for its health promoting and protective effects as well as its delicious taste. “There is now an overwhelming body of research from around the world indicating that drinking tea benefits human health,” says Dr. Carol Greenwood, Professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto and a Senior Scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest."

Finally, Marketplace also requested an on camera interview with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to discuss the results of our test. The CFIA declined an interview but in response to our findings that 50% of the teas tested positive for pesticides residue levels above the allowable limit they said the following in an email:

"Health Canada reviewed the information provided by Marketplace and for the pesticides bifenthrin, imidacloprid, acetamiprid, chlorfenapyr, pyridaben, acephate, dicofol and monocrotophos determined that consumption of tea containing the residues listed does not pose a health risk based on the level of residues reported, expected frequency of exposure and contribution to overall diet. Moreover, a person would have to consume approximately 75 cups of tea per day over their entire lifetime to elicit an adverse health effect."

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