Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers

Hindustan Times
10 August 2003

Cola majors Coke & Pepsi in the dock
Archna Shukla

In an astonishing revelation on Tuesday, a Delhi-based public interest research institution, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), alleged that about a dozen popular soft drinks brands, including Coca-Cola and Pepsi, contained dangerously high levels of pesticides and insecticides. At a press conference held in New Delhi on August 6, the CSE claimed that tests carried out at its test centres revealed presence of four extremely toxic pesticides and insecticides - lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos — in various brands of cola majors.

The NGO found that Coke contained 30 times and Pepsi 36 times the amount of pesticides considered acceptable by the European Economic Commission (EEC). In Mirinda Lemon, it found the contamination to be 70 times more. Similarly, the levels of pesticides were found to be higher than the acceptable norms in Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Mirinda Orange, Mirinda Lemon, Blue Pepsi, 7-Up, Fanta, Limca, Sprite and Thums Up.

CSE is the same agency that earlier had exposed the presence of pesticides in popular brands of bottled water. What was equally alarming about CSE’s revelations this time was that there were no standards for soft drinks contamination under Indian laws. The Food Products Order and Prevention of Food Adulteration doesn’t have any provision addressing the issue of standards for non-alcoholic beverages or soft drinks, the CSE said.

The study found that the total pesticides in PepsiCo brands on an average were 0.0180 milligrams per litre. This is 36 times higher that the EEC limit for pesticides (0.0005 mg/l). The Coca-Cola brands had on an average 0.0150 mg/l, 30 times higher that the EEC limit. The NGO tested one bottle each of Coke and Pepsi bought in the US. They were found to be free of such contaminants.

The stunning revelation brought the staunch cola rivals together. The two companies held a joint press conference later in the day to refute CSE’s claims as well as to threaten legal action against the centre. They not only disputed CSE’s findings but asserted that the centre didn’t have the wherewithal to carry out proper tests on soft drinks.

They argued that the pesticide residues in their products were well within the limits set by the EU and the World Health Organisation but were, however, willing to get their products tested by an independent internationally accredited laboratory.

Their arguments, however, failed to control the damage. The next day saw a huge uproar in Parliament over the issue. Members of Parliament, giving a thumbs down to soft drinks, decided to boycott soft drinks, The chairman of the committee on Food Management, E Ahmed announced that Coke and Pepsi and the other brands named by CSE would not be served to members. Various states also joined the opposition, with Kerala’s state pollution control board confirming that sludge from Coke plant had high levels of solid toxic wastes, Tamil Nadu traders’ bodies urging the Centre to ban manufacture and sale of all sorts of soft drinks and BJP unit in Maharashtra announced a ‘break the bottle’ agitation until Coke and Pepsi were banned in the country.

The government came into action two days later. The health ministry sent samples of the cola brands to the Central Food Technologies Research Institute, Mysore, and the Central Food Laboratory, Kolkata for independent tests. Health minister Sushma Swaraj said that the tests would be done in independent labs and the government will take action only after examining the results.

Meanwhile, cola majors dragged the Maharashtra government and CSE to court by filing separate writ petitions in the Mumbai High Court and the Delhi High Court, respectively. In its petition, Pepsico India Holdings Ltd asked the government not to act on the basis of the CSE report.

Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd moved the Mumbai High Court challenging the Maharashtra government’s action of confiscating huge stock of its aerated water products from the Pune plant. Coke also questioned the official notice prohibiting sale and distribution of the seized goods. In Delhi, Pepsi asked the government to restrain CSE from publishing its report.

The government’s report on the status of affairs is expected next week. If the government labs corroborate CSE’s findings, it will not only be a major embarrassment for the two MNCs but it will cause an irreparable damage to their repute and the business world over.





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