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House hearing for ‘official’ cola report

New Delhi, Aug. 14: The first “official” test report on soft drink samples from Coca-Cola and Pepsi is likely to be tabled in Parliament on Monday.

The cola giants have been in the dock since an August 5 report by the Delhi-based NGO Centre for Science and Environment said 12 brands owned by the companies contained high levels of pesticides.

The test has been carried out by the Mysore-based Central Food Technological Research Institute on soft drink samples collected by the ministry of food processing industries in May. The institute is accredited by the National Accreditation Board of Laboratories.

The collection of these samples pre-dates the controversy sparked by the CSE report.

On May 13, the ministry had ordered the four regional offices of the food products order department to collect samples of soft drink brands and send them for testing. Under the rules, the soft drinks companies have to get their licences from the food products order department in the food processing ministry.

The tests were ordered shortly after a CSE report in February revealed high pesticide residue in bottled water sold by Coke, Pepsi and some Indian manufacturers. This report led to fears that soft drinks might also be contaminated, prompting the ministry to order the tests.

“The issue is already before Parliament. The House will be the most appropriate forum to unveil the report,” a top ministry official said.

The research institute test is expected to reveal the actual level of pesticide residue in the soft drinks. In the absence of any accepted standards for pesticidal residue in soft drinks, “an inter-ministerial committee under the health ministry may frame accepted standards for soft drinks”, the official said.

He added that the public cannot suffer because of legal loopholes and that the ministry would ask the cola companies to take appropriate action if the tests confirm the presence of harmful substances.

.T. Shanmugam, Union minister of state for food processing industries, said in Pune last week that the cola companies’ licences would be cancelled if tests indicated the presence of pesticides beyond the permissible level. The health ministry implements the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, under whose provisions the cola companies could face penal action if the test results are unfavourable.

The food processing ministry oversees the fruit product order which covers all fruit and vegetable products, conditions at the place of manufacturing, hygiene and the potable water used.

Elsewhere, Coca-Cola has welcomed the Kerala health minister’s statement that an interim test report on Coke samples from the company’s Plachimada plant showed that the sludge did not contain cadmium. P. Sankaran yesterday said even the lead content was much lower than the permissible level.

“The tests conducted by the Kerala state health department are an affirmation of our continued position that our products are safe and that they are manufactured (conforming) to the highest quality standards,” said D.S. Mathur, vice-president, technical operations, Coca-Cola India.

The cola majors are panicking for sales have dipped by nearly 40 per cent in the 10 days since the controversy erupted. Both companies have expressed serious doubts over the credibility of the tests carried out by CSE at its own lab. Pepsi has also questioned the applicability of EU norms in India.

Pepsi approached Delhi High Court last week, seeking analysis of its soft drinks by independent laboratories. The court has directed that Pepsi samples be tested by a body of experts. The Centre has been directed to submit the report on these tests by September 1.

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