89% of Chinese herbal medicines purchased abroad contained 3 or more pesticides

As part of our exposé on the poison that China calls “merchandise,” today we take a closer look at Chinese herbal medicine, which is often laden with deadly pesticides.

(Don’t miss our earlier coverage of the most recent Chinese pet treat scare.)

Greenpeace collected 65 samples of traditional Chinese herbal products from nine retail chains in nine different cities across China. 74% of the samples tested positive for pesticides. 

They also purchased 36 made-in-China medicinal herbs in seven major export markets in seven countries, including Virginia (Washington, DC suburbs), London, Toronto, Vancouver, Paris, Hamburg, Milan and Amsterdam. 89% of the samples contained three or more pesticides.

Among the products they tested were wolfberries, angelica, honeysuckle, Sanqi flowers and chrysanthemum.

Here are more details, it’s pretty horrifying.

A farmer from the Miao minority pours a cocktail of pesticides into a sprayer to prepare for spraying his pseudo-ginseng farm. Dehou Town, Wenshan County, Yunnan Province. Wenshan is the origin and the main production area of pseudo-ginseng and accounts for almost 98 percent of China's total yield. (© Simon Lim / Greenpeace)

A farmer from the Miao minority pours a cocktail of pesticides into a sprayer to prepare for spraying his pseudo-ginseng farm. (© Simon Lim / Greenpeace)

Chinese herbs purchased in China

  • 74% of the samples bought in China tested positive for pesticides.
  • 50% of the samples contained traces of three or more pesticides.
  • 40% of the samples contained the residue of pesticides that have been banned in China.  The World Health Organization has classified some of the pesticides as “extremely” or “highly” hazardous.
  • 32% of the samples contained 11 to 40 pesticides each.
  • Some of the poison residue was 100 to 500 times the maximum European residue limit.

Chinese herb exports to western markets

  • 89% of the made-in-China medicinal herbs bought in western countries contained three or more kinds of pesticides.
  • 72% of the samples tested exceeded the safety levels set by European authorities. (Seven samples couldn’t be tested, so the percentage could be even higher.)
  • 47% of the samples showed residues of pesticides classified as “highly or extremely hazardous” by the World Health Organization.

Radio Free Asia reports that while China has excellent environmental laws, they’re rarely enforced because of the country’s endemic culture of corruption:

Campaigners say that China has an exemplary set of environmental protection legislation, but that close ties between business and officials mean that it is rarely enforced at a local level.

Beijing University of Science and Technology economics professor Hu Xingdou said there are few incentives for Chinese farmers to stick to the law when raising lucrative crops, however.

Chinese officials are either apathetic about enforcing the rules on pesticides, or they form part of corrupt protection networks that shield their members from the law, he said.

“The punishments for this sort of thing aren’t very severe in China,” Hu said. “Also, 99.9 percent of people are being protected from them.”

“It costs a lot to stick to the law, and very little to break it. There is very little enforcement capability.”…

“Often, they will produce fake or shoddy goods, or foodstuffs and medicines that are actually poisonous, and it’s very hard to trace who was responsible,” Hu said.

And get ready for chicken processed in China coming to a store near you.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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