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Tata Global Beverages: Greenpeace pesticide study ‘confirms tea brands safe to drink’

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By Ben Bouckley+

19-Aug-2014
Last updated on 19-Aug-2014 at 16:59 GMT

CoCreatr/Flickr
CoCreatr/Flickr

Hindustan Unilever India and Tata Global Beverages insist their teas comply with legal standards and are safe to drink after Greenpeace said it found illegal pesticide traces in popular Indian tea brands.

Asked if the company accepted the controversial report’s findings , a Tata Global Beverages (TGB) spokesperson told us today that the firm “cares deeply about the quality of the tea grown in the country from the standpoint of safe domestic consumption, trade and export, and sustainable production”.

“Plant protection products form a necessary part of ensuring a viable tea industry.  This study confirms that these brands comply with all the legal standards and are therefore safe to drink,” they told BeverageDaily.com.

A Hindustan Unilever spokesperson said: “All our teas are safe to consume. Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) follows a strict quality management system and regularly monitors products for compliance to regulations.

“Our extensive data from testing done at external laboratories shows that we fully comply with the Indian foods regulations as stipulated by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), and our consumers can continue to enjoy their favorite daily cup of tea which is great tasting and safe to drink,” they added.

Asked how TGB could assure Indian and foreign consumers that its brands are safe, the spokesperson said that Indian tea grown in compliance with government guidelines is safe, with the use of ‘plant protection products’ “stringently regulated” in India. 

“Indian tea is subject to some of the most stringent standards globally.  All export tea will be subject to the requirements of those markets to which it is exported.  Indian tea that is grown as per the guidelines issued by the government is safe to consume,” they added.

Tea plantations in India operate under several statutes and laws passed by the Government of India, TGB’s spokesperson said – notably the Food Safety & Standards Act 2006 (FSSA), which regulates the India’s entire food industry.

They added that India’s Central Insecticide Board & Registration Committee (CIBRC) had identified 35 plant protection products permitted for use in tea plantations.

“The Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is engaged in further expanding this list and has defined Maximum Residue Levels for several plant protection products,” the spokesperson said.

TGB insists it is working closely with other companies and the Tea Board of India (click here to read their response to the Greenpeace report) to tighten up the standards regulating Indian teas.

Tea Board of India has been working closely with the tea industry to deliver even higher standards and are engaged in several joint initiatives to further improve standards regulating Indian teas.

We asked TGB what actions, if any, it planned to take as a result of this report – if it accepted the testing protocols, results and recommendations?

The spokesperson said TGB has already put in place guideline on using PPFs in the supply chain, and planned to buy 100% of its tea from trustea-certified sources by 2020 – this includes a commitment to good agricultural practices, see more details on trustea below.

Unilever told BeverageDaily.com that it had committed to producing all its agricultural raw materials using only sustainable crop practices by 2020, and was working closely on long-term sustainability goals with the Tea Board of India and other industry stakeholders.

“HUL does not own any tea plantations in India. We procure tea for our India domestic and exports businesses from auctions (conducted under license from the Tea Board of India), as well as directly from producers. All stakeholders of the industry need to work together to produce tea sustainably,” a spokesperson said.

HUL was a founder member of trustea, a multi-stakeholder industry initiative led by the Tea Board of India, they added, which has worked closely with industry members to develop a code for sustainable tea agriculture in India.

One component of this code is a Plant Protection Code issued by the Tea Board of India in March 2014, which HUL describes as “another key step in this journey”.

“Our stated aim is to reduce and eliminate the use of synthetic methods of plant protection in tea cultivation in partnership with suppliers, plantation owners and farmers,” the spokesperson said.

“As a first step, Unilever in consultation with industry partners has commissioned a research project with an international independent expert agency, CABI, to investigate the feasibility of growing tea in India through non pesticide management (NPM) methods,” they added.

“We have engaged with Greenpeace in this regard. The results of the first phase will be jointly analysed with the Tea Board and key stakeholders for planning of next steps including pilot field studies,” the spokesperson said.

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