Chinese herbal medicines contain pesticide residue

Posted 02 July 2013

Chinese herbs have been used for centuries. Although many are likely to have a true health benefit, in fact not many have been evaluated yet for safety or whether they are in fact efficacious. The paradigm of Chinese medicine is unlike Western medicine on a number of levels, including the latter having developed a surveillance system for adverse effects.

This interesting article published in The Guardian highlights a new problem – in trying to increase production of medicinal herbs, pesticides are being used which may result in the final product containing high levels of residual pesticide.

Chinese herbal medicines contain pesticide residue, tests reveal Popular herbal products imported from China show traces of highly hazardous pesticides, Greenpeace report says Press Association, Monday 1 July 2013 10.09 BST 

Many traditional Chinese herbal medicines sold in western countries contain a “cocktail” of pesticide residues which exceed safe levels, research by Greenpeace suggests. 

Testing of 36 samples of herbal products imported from China, including chrysanthemum, wolfberry, honeysuckle, dried lily bulb, san qi, Chinese date and rosebud, found 32 contained residues of three or more pesticides. 

A report by Greenpeace said traditional Chinese herbs were becoming increasingly known and accepted in the west, where they were purchased for medicinal use, and the export market was worth £1.5bn in 2011. 

But almost half the samples (17) collected in the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands had residues of pesticides considered highly hazardous by the World Health Organisation, although in low concentrations. 

Of 29 samples of products bought in European countries including the UK, 26 showed pesticide residues in quantities exceeding maximum safe levels set by EU authorities, Greenpeace said. 

Tests on chrysanthemum bought in the UK detected 15 pesticides, eight of which exceeded EU residue levels, according to the report by the environmental group. 

The presence of pesticide residues in what should be natural Chinese herbs should not be seen as an isolated case, but as “another example of the failure of chemical-intensive agriculture in China and around the world,” the report said. 

Greenpeace called for a switch to more ecologically-friendly farming to protect human health and the environment, including natural resources such as water supplies and beneficial insects such as bees. 

The green group warned long-term exposure to pesticide residues can have health impacts, such as reproductive abnormalities, while acute exposure to the chemicals can lead to poisoning of farm workers. 

Commenting on the findings from Greenpeace East Asia, Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist with Greenpeace UK, said: “The toxic chemicals found in these products pose a real health risk to consumers. 

“People who use these products do so hoping to ease medical conditions and improve their health – they will be shocked to learn that along with natural herbs they have been taking, they are exposing themselves to a synthetic cocktail of potentially dangerous pesticides. 

“The UK Government and the EU must improve their testing regime for products imported from China as a matter of urgency so that users of these remedies know that they are safe.”


The report mentioned in this Guardian story – here as “fair use” – is accessible at

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