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Sushma sees red over Pepsi ad

New Delhi, Aug. 25: Objecting to a “misleading” Pepsi advertisement claiming she had given the soft-drink major a clean chit, Sushma Swaraj today sought an “unconditional apology” and withdrawal of the “unethical” ad.

Last Friday, Pepsi put out advertisements in newspapers across the country quoting the health minister as saying in the Lok Sabha on Thursday that “…all these (soft drinks) are well within the safety limits…”

Questioning the motives behind the advertisement, Deepak Gupta, the joint secretary in the health ministry, told Pepsi: “Your advertisement is misleading as only a part of one sentence given in the statement of the minister before the Lok Sabha has been used in the advertisement.

“It is obvious that the remaining part of the sentence has been wilfully concealed with questionable motives,” he added.

On August 21, Swaraj had said: “The samples of the soft drinks tested were well within the safety limits as per the existing standards of packaged drinking water.”

Her statement sparked angry protests from Opposition members, with one of them ask- ing: “How much donation was made before the statement (was issued)'”

The next day, the multinational put up several hoardings and splashed advertisements claiming the minister had given it a clean chit.

Swaraj was grilled by reporters last Friday as she addressed a customary end-of-session news conference in Parliament, asking how she had given the company the clean chit.

The minister insisted that she had not. She added that all she had said was that the Centre for Science and Environment report (which said the drinks contained high levels of pesticides) was based on EU standards.

Swaraj said the offending soft drinks met the existing Indian standards (on bottled water).

When asked about the Pepsi advertisements, the minister said she had not seen them, adding that action would be taken if they were found objectionable.

Gupta added that Swaraj had said pesticide residues were found in all the samples tested and that in 9 out of 12 samples, residues were found to be above EU levels. “Thus, your claim that your product is conforming to EU norms is not true,” the joint secretary told Pepsi.

“Using the minister's name for promoting sale of your product is extremely unethical and also violative of established norms of advertisements,” Gupta said. He demanded the advertisement be withdrawn and that Pepsi make an unconditional apology.

“This is without prejudice to any further action which the government may propose to take in this matter,” Gupta warned.

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