Thanks to recent investigative journalism, more people are now aware of the realities of tea plantations. Everything from harmful chemicals, to unsanitary tea fields, to unsafe working conditions has been exposed; sometimes even on plantations run by highly recognizable companies such as Twinings and Tetley.
Naturally, consumers have become very concerned, wanting more information about how and where their tea is grown, and what kind of impact their morning cuppa might be having on the planet. For many, the easiest place to start is by looking for tea which has been ‘Certified Organic’ – but is it really a better product?
To help you decide for yourself, let’s take a look at the organic process, and ask some important questions.
What Does Organic Mean When it Comes to Green Tea?
Organic Certification means that the green tea you are drinking has met certain standards for consumer safety and environmental friendliness. Synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are not used in organic tea farming which relies instead on natural processes.
For example, planting herbs or flowers which naturally repel pests means that the tea plants will not need to be sprayed with synthetic pesticides. Additionally, organic farming promotes responsible practices such as crop rotation to allow the native soil to “rest” and regenerate itself. Farmers must pay close attention to local conditions, and ensure their farms are working in harmony with nature, rather than pumping their land full of harmful chemicals to force them into compliance.
Do Consumers Really Get a Better Product?
The importance of organic farming became apparent when the use of certain synthetic chemicals in the growing process began to cause problems. Not only were these chemicals harmful to the local growing environment, they were also harmful to consumers.
Some chemical pesticides have been shown to cause skin and eye irritation, along with more severe issues such as respiratory problems, infertility, birth defects, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. Even though these chemical pesticides may be very effective in repelling damaging species, organic tea producers don’t consider them to be worth the risks posed to consumers, and to tea plantation workers.
A piece of fruit purchased from a supermarket can be taken home and rinsed off, effectively eliminating any lingering harmful chemicals. Tea leaves, on the other hand, cannot be rinsed. They are instead dropped into hot water where these chemicals can leach directly into your beverage.
Organic farming aims to eliminate consumer exposure to these harmful chemicals by banning them completely.
Does Organic Farming Make for a Happier Planet?
Green tea plantations often rely on the growing of a single crop year after year (“monocropping”), giving rise to a variety of potential problems. With no natural diversity in the planting fields, plantations can become a haven for invasive pests and destructive species.
Furthermore, failure to rotate crops leads to poor soil quality, meaning plantations may need to expand their growing operations to continue at their current rate of output. How do they do this? Through deforestation and pushing into the surrounding wilderness in search of more soil.
The organic growing process demands more responsible and sustainable farming practices. By being more in tune with their land, organic farmers can prevent problems with pests and soil quality before they start. Using safer and more natural farming processes means they do not have to contribute to deforestation, or need to rely on synthetic pesticides to combat the problems caused by irresponsible farming.
Are There Other Concerns Over Green Tea?
Buying organic is a good place to start, but responsible consumers are also concerned about working conditions for tea plantation laborers, and whether or not their tea is being purchased at a fair price.
Because most tea growing operations take place in China, India, Sri Lanka, and Japan, people in the Western world are not likely to see or experience a tea plantation for themselves. This geographic barrier means that it can sometimes be very difficult to get accurate information about the working, living, and sanitation conditions of plantation employees.
One easy way to identify companies which care for their workers, and pay them fairly, is to seek out the Certified Fair Trade label on tea. This distinction means that the growing operations have met certain standards for human rights, fair wages, and responsible farming practices.
How Can I Stay Informed?
One of the best things you can do as a consumer is to contact your favorite green tea companies directly, and ask them about their farming practices and human rights ethics. If any part of their answer does not sit well with you, you can vote with your wallet, and move on to a company you feel does a better job of treating the earth and its people with respect.
If you are unable to get a straight answer from a company, you may want to seek out other organizations that offer more transparency into their farming and business practices. Companies that have earned both the Organic and Fair Trade distinctions are often very proud of their work, and are happy to disclose their practices to their consumers.
By choosing to buy organic green tea, you are doing your part to help sustain the environment, and to limit your exposure to harmful chemicals. It is a good move for smart consumers who have concerns about our planet, about their health, and about the welfare of tea plantation workers.