Taiwan pesticide issue overblown, says TWG Tea

Hong Kong media were in a flap this week over excessive pesticide residue found in a batch of TWG Tea sent to Taiwan, but the issue is overblown, said the luxury tea retailer on Friday evening.

Maranda Barnes, director of communications and business development at TWG Tea, told The Business Times that different markets have different tests that incoming agricultural products are put through, and the batch had passed tests in Singapore.

"Every year, we send 800 types of tea to Taiwan with no issues," she said.

In a Sept 29 notice, Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration said that it had found excessive levels of pesticide residues in a 25kg batch of TWG Tea's "Chamomile Green Tea" exported from India.

It said that the residues detected were double their allowable limits.

The report was quickly picked up by the Hong Kong press.

TWG Tea - owned by Singapore mainboard-listed OSIM International - has four stores in Hong Kong and three in Taiwan.

Ms Barnes said that tests are expensive and impossible to do for every one of the 300 pesticides in existence. However, there is a process that the company adheres to, she said.

"TWG Teas are tested by our suppliers in each country of origin before shipment to Singapore. They are then tested on a random basis twice a year for heavy metals and pesticide residue in Singapore as per HACCP (a food safety management system) standards by independent auditors.

"They are then tested another time by accredited laboratories in Singapore before export. And finally, the teas may be tested by the local customs authorities of certain importing countries."

Another issue is how tea leaves in Taiwan are tested like fruits and vegetables, as if they were going to be chewed and swallowed, she said.

However, residue concentrations would be indefinitely diluted in an infusion form, which is how teas are usually drunk, she pointed out. TWG Tea is working with the Taiwanese authorities on the issue, she added.

This is not the first time a Singapore company is caught up in a food or drug safety controversy overseas. A year ago, mainboard-listed traditional Chinese medicine retailer Eu Yan Sang had to reassure customers and investors after a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alert warned of a lead-poisoning risk from its best-selling "Bo Ying Compound" product, used for a variety of ailments in children.

Eu Yan Sang said then that varying health standards were in force in different territories, and that the product in the US health scare was made in Hong Kong and meant only for sale there.

It also said that the product should have been measured against dietary supplement guidelines, instead of more stringent food ingredient guidelines.

OSIM shares closed flat on Friday at S$1.625.

This article was first published on October 3, 2015.
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