Jan. 10, 2012: Beijing – According to a Greenpeace report released today, most produce found at five supermarkets in China contain residues of one or more pesticides, and in some cases, these pesticides are either banned or the amount of residues exceeds legal limits.
In November, Greenpeace randomly purchased 35 samples of fruits and vegetables from five supermarkets in Beijing, Chengdu and Guangzhou. Of the 35 samples, all but five contained pesticide residues.
Results from an independent, third-party lab showed 35 different kinds of pesticide chemicals; among them were found pesticides banned by the Chinese government, a pesticide defined "extremely hazardous” by the World Health Organization and endosulfan, a chemical that is being phased out globally after an international summit on its dangers for childhood development.
"One may think that going to a big, shiny supermarket means that these major retailers have taken care of food safety for their customers," said Greenpeace food and agriculture campaigner Wang Jing. "But Greenpeace’s tests again showed these supermarkets are being irresponsible and careless."
The testing is part of a larger campaign to rate safety of food in supermarkets.
Most samples taken from three stores in Beijing contained residues of one or more pesticides. One sample contained residues beyond the limit allowed by national regulations. Also among the samples, Greenpeace found that Chinese chives from a Jingkelong supermarket in Beijing contained residues of a particularly dangerous chemical called phorate.
Phorate is considered an "extremely hazardous" chemical by the WHO. According the United States Environmental Protection Agency, small amounts of phorate can cause nausea, confusion, dizziness, and at very high exposure levels, respiratory paralysis and death.
The sample of Chinese chives not only contained phorate but four other pesticide residues, among them endosulfan, which has been known to cause major physical deformations in newborn babies. Because of its serious risks, a global ban on the manufacture and use of endosulfan was negotiated under the Stockholm Convention in April 2011. The Chinese government announced in June that it would begin work to phase out the chemical.
According to the results, two of the samples taken from an Ito Yokado supermarket in Chengdu contained one or more residues of pesticides labeled "extremely" or "highly hazardous" by the WHO. One sample of bok choy (or Chinese cabbage) contained residues of triazophos, a pesticide considered "highly hazardous" by the WHO. Triazophos, although dangerous, has not yet been banned by the Chinese government.
Also in Guangzhou, Greenpeace found a sample of beans containing residues of 10 different kinds of pesticides at an Aeon-owned supermarket. Endosulfan was among those 10 pesticides. Carbofuran residues were also found on two different kinds of cabbage in a Vanguard supermarket. Carbofuran is considered "highly hazardous" by the WHO.
"With so many pesticides, it might seem impossible to find safe food," Wang said. "It's difficult, but not impossible.
"That's why Greenpeace has put together a guide for consumers to help them avoid supermarkets that sell dangerous food," Wang added.
The guide, released in December, can be found on the Greenpeace web site (see link below). It lists Carrefour and Auchan supermarkets as the best in the country for their transparency and for their efforts to ensure the least hazardous pesticides are used on the produce they buy. Tesco and Ito Yokado ranked as the worst for their obstinacy to change year after year.
"Consumers have a great weapon in the fight for safe food – choice," Wang said. "If we choose not to buy unsafe food, then supermarkets won't sell them."
Greenpeace calls on supermarkets all over China to launch a quality control system to trace and refuse unsafe food. It demands supermarkets ban the most hazardous pesticides such as those considered "extremely" and "highly hazardous" by the WHO.
Evan Brooks, international media officer, Greenpeace
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