A Greenpeace investigation of Chinese herbal products (PDF) reveals that high concentrations of pesticides are polluting the environment and making China’s traditional medicine harmful to human health. From Sue-Lin Wong at IHT Rendezvous:
The study, “Chinese Herbs: Elixir of Health or Pesticide Cocktail?” tested 65 popular Chinese herbs from nine pharmacies in nine Chinese cities and found 48 tested positive for pesticide residues. Six of the residues (found in 26 of the samples) were from pesticides banned in China, including some the World Health Organization has classified as extremely hazardous. Alarmingly, one pesticide residue was 500 times over the European Union maximum, the study found.
That Chinese traditional herbs are tainted is known here; last year, People’s Daily online posted an article that said, “Don’t let poor quality herbs destroy the practice of traditional Chinese medicine!” The piece went on to describe the severity of pesticide residue and chemical pollution in traditional Chinese medicines.
China’s 600 million farmers use close to two million tons of pesticides each year but the effective utilization rate is only about 30 percent, the Greenpeace study found. The rest turns into hazardous soil, water and air pollution.
[…] Health implications from long-term exposure to toxic pesticide levels may include learning difficulties, hormone disruption and reproductive abnormalities, Greenpeace said. [Source]
Lo Wei and Mandy Zuo at South China Morning Post explained the growing use of chemical pesticides in China:
[…] Wang Jing, food and agriculture senior campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia, said mainland herb growers were heavily dependent on pesticides to prevent diseases and insect infestations. The use of chemical pesticides has become more common on the mainland as plantation sizes increase in response to rising global demand for Chinese herbs.
Greenpeace visited mainland plantations and found that many farmers were unaware of the harmful effects of pesticides on their own and consumers’ health, and on the environment, Lin said. In Shandong’s Pingyi county, where honeysuckle is grown, the farmers are mostly over the age of 50 and do not know how to use pesticides scientifically, Wang said.
“Neither the government nor the manufacturer has any guidance for them,” she said. “They often take the advice of local shops, which tend to recommend highly toxic pesticides.” [Source]
See also a skeptical recent look at other problems facing Traditional Chinese Medicine, via CDT.