Our National Drink

Tea was first discovered in China and since then, it has travelled through the world. In the beginning, tea plants were quite limited and only royalty and the rich drank tea, not only for its medicinal qualities but also for its taste.

Today, tea is one of the most popular beverages in India and is considered to be one of the healthiest drinks available in the market. But in the current era of industrial agriculture, growing tea is heavily dependent upon the use of chemical pesticides.


I still recall the image of activists, holding up for fifty hours on seven billboards, through the hot sun and the notorious Mumbai rains. I remember having a feeling of admiration for their perseverance, as I watched them stay strong many feet above the ground. You can’t help but think that it has to be a cause that affects them deeply that makes an individual leave his/her daily life and get on top of a billboard asking tea companies to, “Clean Chai Now.” And you bet, the cause was not only personal but mammoth; the activists were not only challenging the current paradigm of Indian tea cultivation but Indian agriculture as a whole which depends on chemical toxins that are a threat to consumer safety and farmer sustainability.

I would like to think that it could have been me on that billboard as I have a personal relationship with my chai and it has become a way of life for me like many other Indians. And when Greenpeace’s report, Trouble Brewing brought to light, toxic cocktail of pesticide residues in our favourite brands of tea, it was a matter of concern. The report also highlighted that pesticides not approved for tea cultivation were found in the samples, reflecting the fact, that regulating these toxins is not the answer to the problem.

Clearly the tea industry was missing the right solutions to move out of this pesticide treadmill as the report showed that older pesticides were replaced by newer ones like neonicotinoids.

The activists perched on those billboards for many hours together coupled with months of engagement that Greenpeace has had with tea companies, was to ensure that the industry stops ignoring the right solution. The right solution as Greenpeace would define is a scientific approach that is holistic and based on rejuvenating the ecosystem. It is a change in approach towards ecological agriculture, which no longer talks about reducing certain chemical pesticides and replacing them with others but it is a gradual elimination of all chemical pesticides, not overnight but through a road-map that has to be created keeping all stakeholders in mind. Greenpeace’s suggested approach will not only lead to ensuring a safe product to the consumer but also the long term sustainability of the tea sector.

This approach was acknowledged by most in the tea industry, but a true leader of the Indian tea market, Unilever (which holds 29% of the market share) took the first step in the direction of the right approach to phase out pesticides and invest in research on Non Pesticide Management. While Unilever’s journey to clean from crop to cup is long, this movement signals their commitment to their consumers. This was then followed by Girnar, a much smaller tea company with a market share of 1.8%, willing to support an alternative approach of Non Pesticide Management.

While all tea companies acknowledged the problem of pesticide residues in tea and their impact from crop to cup, not all of them have committed to a shift in paradigm. The biggest player in the tea sector after Unilever, Tata Global Beverages Ltd (TGBL) like others is willing to take steps to deal with the pesticide menace but unfortunately their vision is still to reduce pesticides rather than eliminate them completely. TGBL does mention using biological alternatives but this is more on the lines of “good to have” rather than the core of their approach.

Tata’s enjoy an image of trust and sustainability not only in India but also globally and their leading tea brand, Tata Tea is a household name and also associated with the social cause, Jaago Re. It is unfortunate that now Tata Tea is associated with a cocktail of pesticides, this makes it all the more important that TGBL wakes up and commits to phasing out pesticides from crop to cup.

A month has passed since the brave activists sent out a strong message to tea companies; clearly Unilever has taken the first step and shown leadership. It is only obvious that TGBL like Unilever, a big player in the tea sector, follows and also takes on leadership for a pesticide-free future of Indian tea as that will be the expectation from their consumers.

Statement by Unilever:

Statement by Girnar:

Statement by TGBL:

Trouble Brewing in Tea

An investigation carried out by Greenpeace India has found residues of hazardous chemical pesticides in a majority of samples of the main brands of packaged tea produced and consumed in India. Over half of the samples contained pesticides that are ‘unapproved’ for use in tea cultivation or which were present in excess of recommended limits.

download pdf

Crisis with Agriculture

At present, one of the most debated issues globally is the need to ensure food-security and eradicate hunger. But the current model of agriculture which has increased our dependency on chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and genetically engineered crops, has not managed to do that. Neither has it improved livelihoods of small and marginal farmers.

Today, Indian agriculture is facing a grave crisis. The severity of this crisis can be gauged by the current state of Indian farmers.

Case in point: The Green Revolution. We, as a country, should have learnt from Green Revolution, which replaced sound ecological cultivation practices and diverse local crops with a few high yielding varieties, dependent on chemicals, which has been a huge failure. Now, more than ever, we are faced with hunger, that we are trying to get rid of by adopting destructive and polluting agricultural practices that only benefit large corporates. Once again, instead of treating the problem, we are treating the symptom.

Truth About Pesticides

Pesticides are substances meant for attracting, seducing, destroying, or mitigating any pest. Sadly, that isn’t all they do. Studies have shown that chemical pesticides linger in the atmosphere, the ground and in our waterways long after they have been used in a given area. Furthermore, a large amount of sprayed insecticides and herbicides reach areas other than their target areas, because they are sprayed or spread across entire agricultural fields. Runoff can carry pesticides into aquatic environments while wind can carry them to other fields and human settlements, potentially affecting other species.

Pesticides have also been linked to a multitude of diseases and in some extreme cases, remnants of pesticides have also been found in the bloodstream of sufferers of certain types of cancer.

Crisis with Tea

The recent results of our investigation reveal a cocktail of pesticide residue in tea. From a total of 49 branded and packaged teas sampled, a whopping 59% of them contain a cocktail of more than 10 different pesticides, including one sample, which contained residues of 20 different pesticides.

Moreover, these results expose use of banned, illegal and unapproved pesticides. Amongst them are toxic pesticides including DDT, Endosulfan and Monocrotophos.

68% of the 34 pesticides detected in this study are currently not even registered for use on tea by the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC). In fact, the levels of many of the pesticides detected exceed the EU-MRL, raising serious questions about the suitability of these tea products for export to European and other markets.

This is yet another symptom of a sick industrial agriculture system which fails to deliver healthy food to people. Indian tea is a victim of agriculture’s pesticide addiction. Click here to read the full report

Cocktail Of Pesticides In Tea

Over the years, a number of studies have used experimental methods to show that a cocktail of pesticides can disrupt gene expression in some organisms. In addition, there is some emerging evidence that pesticide exposure may be associated with reproductive abnormalities, immune suppression, cancer and hormone disruption in humans, presumably as a result of changes in basic metabolic function.

The tea samples tested for this investigation cover eight of the top 11 companies that dominate the branded tea market in India. These include well-known international and national brands such as Hindustan Unilever Limited, Tata Global Beverages Limited, Wagh Bakri Tea, Goodricke Tea, Twinings, Golden Tips, Kho-Cha and Girnar.

External Links On Pesticides
Links On Pesticides New/Recent Studies/Reports

New Report demands that government act against main culprit in Bihar MDM tragedy

(Related news: On 1st anniversary of Bihar midday meal tragedy, new report warns of future mishaps

EFSA assesses potential link between two neonicotinoids and developmental neurotoxicity

(Related news:

Clear differences between organic and non-organic food, study finds

Solutions/Way Forward Videos/Documentaries

Videos/Documentaries Satyamev Jayate - Toxic Food - Poison On Our Plate?

A Pestering Journey (2010) – Punjab & Kasaragod

Mere Desh Ki Dharti (2006, 60 mts, on Punjab & Pesticides)

Slow Poisoning of India (2004)

Part 1 :

Part 2 :

Part 3 :

Punjab Vs. Pesticides

Toxic Tears (Trailer) – about Punjab & Green Revolution

Highway to Hell (2005) – on pesticides situation & alternatives

End of The Road For Endosulfan

Part 1 :

Part 2 :

Part 3 :

God’s Own Country (trailer) – on endosulfan impacts

Related links

On CMSA programme (large scale non-pesticidal management) in Andhra Pradesh:

World Bank film, 2010 - 8.44 mts

Rural Development Department, Andhra Pradesh, 2008 – 5.14 mts

Kranthi Patham or Revolutionary Path, CSA, 2008 – 22.19 mts

The Future of Food

Case Studies

Click below to read about people whose lives have been directly affected by rampant use of pesticides in agriculture.

1. The Long Wait

2. A Paradise for the dying

3. How it all began

What Is Non Pesticide Management?

Indian agriculture is on a pesticide treadmill where the norm is that one cannot save crops without pesticides. But a new thinking based on an ecological approach has swept Andhra Pradesh and has done away with synthetic chemical pesticides. This is Non Pesticide Management (NPM).

NPM works on the principle of understanding pests and utilising locally available and low cost inputs. NPM understands the life cycle of insects and using simple options like light traps, trap crops, pheromone traps and using age old therapies like neem extracts and the extracts of cow dung and cow urine. Definitely less costly than your chemical pesticides, but most importantly not toxic to human health and the environment and therefore, more sustainable.

NPM is ready to be scaled up and can be applied to other crops. It has rapidly gained popularity as 300,000 farmers in Andhra Pradesh alone have adopted this in just four years. The NPM model has shown that ecological approaches can be economically and ecologically viable.

Live Example Of Non Pesticide Management

In 1998, members of SECURE (Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment), a non-governmental organisation started talking to the farmers in Punukula, a village of approximately 900 inhabitants in Andhra Pradesh, about using NPM methods for their cotton.

The farmers were sceptical at first. Could pests really be controlled without pesticides? But the following year, after persistent promotion of NPM by SECURE, one farmer, Margam Mutthaiah, an influential village elder in Punukula, gave it a try. Margam’s results with NPM farming were so good that twenty other farmers decided to try NPM the following year.

The result: The crop yield of the twenty NPM farmers was as good as the crop yield of farmers using insecticides, and they achieved it without spending any money on insecticides.

By 2008, 340,000 farmers in 3,170 villages were using NPM on nearly a million acres of cropland, not only for cotton but also for grain and vegetable crops.

What You Can Do

Tell your friends and spread the message to #CleanChai. Want to do more? Sign the petition to Clean Chai Now! Sign in

About Bindu Vaz

Bindu Vaz is a mother who is concerned about the health and well-being of her young daughter. She does not wish to raise her daughter in a world where pesticides become a norm and health safety is thrown out the window. This is one the many reasons why she decided to join Greenpeace India’s fight to clean up tea. Personally, this is her way of contributing to the change she seeks.


What's New

Press Releases

  1. Tea industry divided on the issue of pesticides
  2. Greenpeace calls on the industry to save Indian tea from pesticides
  3. Tea companies commit to Non-Pesticide Management in tea; Unilever and Girnar lead the way
  4. Tea Board’s Plant Protection Code is inadequate: Greenpeace India:

Feature Stories

  1. Great victory requires great risk


  1. Why ideologies, ideas and sectors need to reinvent themselves!
  2. Ek Cup Chai – Sans Pesticides Please!
  3. Behind the scenes: Occupy billboard
  4. Pesticide-free farming is the future
  5. The Making of an Activist!
  6. Inspiration can be found in the most unexpected places!
  7. Clean up my Sulaimani!
  8. Journey that led to the pesticides campaign
  9. Growing organic teas in India, a tea estate visit:
  10. Pushing the limits is what I do!
Companies React
Two of the leading tea companies, Unilever & Girnar take the first step towards pesticide-free tea. To read their statements, please click on the links below:

1) Unilever
2) Girnar

Tata, India’s biggest tea company has also released a statement detailing their intention to reduce pesticides used in tea production. However, reducing pesticides is not the answer. Only moving to a holistic ecosystem based approach will eliminate pesticides.


The endosulfan controversy first began in the late 1990s. In Kasargod, Kerala, rumours emerged that the aerial spraying of endosulfan on cashew plantations was causing abnormal cases of cancer, skin disease, congenital deformities, sterility and other illnesses. As time passed, local activist groups grew increasingly convinced that they were being caused by a very old off-patent pesticide of the organochlorine class, to which the notorious DDT belongs. By 2001, the issue became big enough for the Kerala government to ban endosulfan.


In the book Silent Spring, author Rachel Carson attributed the overall rise in US cancer rates between 1940 and 1960 to the carcinogenic effects of DDT. She predicted that DDT and other pesticides would spark a cancer epidemic that would wipe out ‘practically 100 per cent’ of the human population within a single generation. As Carson saw it, a race of super-insects, resistant to the effects of pesticides, would infest the crops grown on American farms. Desperate farmers, she said, would respond to these infestations by using much greater quantities of DDT. In this way, Carson explained, the pesticide would eventually poison the entire food chain, killing off, in sequence, bugs, worms, birds, fish, and finally mankind. DDT is now classified as a persistent organic pollutant (POP) as it accumulates in fatty tissues, and can travel long distances in the upper atmosphere. The presence of DDT in 67% of the tea samples in the current study is intriguing since it is no longer registered for use in agriculture in India and was banned in such applications as long ago as 1989.


Found in 27 samples of tea in the current investigation, Monocrotophos, a WHO Class Ib pesticide, has been registered in India by the CIBRC, but has not been permitted for use on tea. It also happens to be the same toxic pesticide, which claimed the lives of 23 school children in Bihar.

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