Thu, Nov 22, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Tzuchi offers tea aid to Tibetans

BITTER TRADITION The traditional butter tea that Tibetans have been drinking for thousands of years has a high fluorine content, leading to medical difficulties


Tibetans drink butter tea in Lingzhi, Tibet, on Aug. 31.


The Tzuchi Buddhist group, believing the high-fluorine butter tea which Tibetans have been drinking for centuries is bad for their health, is sending bricks of low-fluorine tea to Tibet, the group said on Tuesday.

The Tzuchi Foundation joined Chinese researchers in studying the tea-drinking habits of Tibetans in 2000, and since 2004, has distributed 144 tonnes of low-fluorine tea to Tibet, the group's deputy leader Wang Tuan-cheng (王端正) said.

For thousands of years, Tibetans have been drinking butter tea to help them digest meat and stay warm in the harsh climate. Tibetan soil has a high fluorine content, which is absorbed by the tea bushes.

Chinese scholars noticed the high levels of fluorine in Tibetan butter tea in 1983 and launched a field study in 1994.

Tzuchi listed fluorine poisoning by tea as the target of one of its overseas relief projects in 2000.

In 2004, Tzuchi and Chinese scholars launched a joint research project which discovered fluorine poisoning from butter tea among minority ethnic groups in Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Xinjiang.

According to Tzuchi's study, Tibetans drink large amounts of butter tea, sometimes up to 40 to 50 cups a day.

"They drink it like water, so it causes many health problems, like dental or skeletal fluorosis, yellow teeth, tooth decay and stooping of the back," Tzuchi's Wang said.

A separate study by Chinese doctors showed that 53.5 percent of students in Naqu, northern Tibet, suffer from dental fluorosis because of drinking butter tea from an early age.

According to the WHO, a safe fluorine intake is 2mg for a child and 4mg for an adult, but the fluorine content of a kettle of butter tea made from the traditional Tibetan brick-tea is around 6mg to 10mg.

The fluorine content in the low-fluorine tea brick is less than 4mg.

Cao Xing (曹興) from China's Central South University, who headed the research, has obtained a patent for the low-fluorine tea brick and wants to share it with Tzuchi.

But Tzuchi hopes Cao can pass the patent on to Chinese health authorities so that they can mass produce low-fluorine tea bricks for Tibetans and other Chinese ethnic minorities.

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