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After bottled water, pesticides test lists drinks dirty dozen

New Delhi, Aug. 5: A study of 12 brands of soft drinks marketed by Coca-Cola and Pepsi has alleged that all of them contain pesticides at least 30 times higher than international standards.

The Centre for Science and Environment — that had come out with a similar study of bottled water — said today: “Each sample (of soft drink) had enough poison to cause in the long term cancer, damage to the nervous and reproductive systems, birth defects and severe disruption of the immune system.”

Its report achieved the unprecedented result of bringing bitter rivals Coke and Pepsi together at a news conference.

“We confirm that the products provided to consumers in India are of the highest quality,” they said.

Samples of the so-called dirty dozen, collected from Delhi and its neighbourhood, were tested at a laboratory of the non-government organisation CSE, which in February said popular brands of bottled water contained damaging pesticide residues.

A public outcry forced the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) to upgrade quality standards for bottled water.

As the controversy over soft drinks erupted, the government said it was working on revised quality norms for carbonated beverages but explained the exercise was unrelated to today’s report. The proposal is to recommend use of bottled water to make soft drinks.

Revealing the contents of the study, CSE chairperson Sunita Narain said: “What is worse in the case of soft drinks is that the BIS has no standards for the kind of water to be used in soft drinks. In effect, these companies are selling products containing poison made mandatory by law.”

According to the CSE test, pesticides in all Pepsi brands average 0.0180 mg per litre — 36 times higher than the European Union limit of 0.0005 mg. In Coca-Cola brands, the average is 0.0150 mg, 30 times higher.

The CSE tested two soft drink brands marketed in the US and found no pesticides.

In the US, carbonated beverages are treated as food, Narain said. But in India there is no provision to regulate the quantity of pesticides in the drinks.

Sharing a platform under the aegis of the Indian Soft Drink Manufacturers’ Association, the cola companies dismissed the report. The association said Coke and Pepsi products made in India are regularly tested in world-class laboratories.

“The products meet North American and European standards,” said Rajiv Bakshi, president of Pepsi’s India operations.

Stating that they had serious reservations about the CSE’s testing ability, he said: “An independent agency, or regulators or scientists could conduct the test in accredited laboratories.”

Coca-Cola India president Sanjiv Gupta said: “It is not an issue of multinationals. We, who are at the helm of affairs at the Indian operations, are Indians. Our bottlers are Indians.… Our own kids are drinking it.”

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