The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Twin norms plea for pesticide in food

New Delhi, Oct. 10: Adding fresh fizz to the soft drink controversy, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in its presentation before the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) today recommended two different sets of norms for nutritious and non-nutritious food while fixing maximum pesticide residue levels.

CSE president Sunita Narain told the JPC that with our food basket containing such a huge amount of pesticides, the situation has now boiled down to a “trade-off” between nutrition and poison. It has, therefore, become necessary to make a distinction between nutritious and non-nutritious food.

The government, the CSE suggested, can relax the norms for pesticide residue levels in essential nutritious food. It should, however, prescribe stringent norms to keep the level down in non-nutritious food like soft drinks. For instance, one cannot substitute apple with coke or even orange juice with coke, the CSE said.

Narain argued that an increasing use of pesticides in the cultivation of fruits and vegetables has led to a high level of pesticide residues in essential food. A reversal of this is not possible. What is, however, possible is restricting the intake of pesticides from a variety of other non-essential foodstuff, which includes soft drinks.

A JPC was instituted in August following an exposé by the CSE on the high levels of pesticide residues in 12 brands of soft drinks, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Limca and Thums Up.

The first meeting of the JPC took place last month and the second began yesterday with a presentation from the food processing ministry.

The ministry argued that it was not possible to stick to European Union norms as that would mean changing the entire pattern of agriculture, which is dependent on fertilisers and pesticides. Conformity with EU norms would mean importing agricultural raw material, it said.

Investigations have shown that almost all foodstuff consumed daily is contaminated by pesticides. Drinking water, too, continues to be hazardous.

The Bureau of Indian Standards has set norms for bottled water under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act but standards for drinking water remain voluntary.

Drinking water comes under the urban development ministry, and the Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation under it lays down guidelines for its quality.

Municipalities and public health departments in urban areas and the Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Missions in rural areas are expected to follow these guidelines.

“But water is a state subject and the role of the ministry and the CPHEEO is, therefore, merely recommendatory in nature. It is for the state governments to adopt and enforce these standards,” a CSE official said.

Summons for Cola giants

Coke and Pepsi officials may be part of the trade delegation that will be summoned for the JPC hearing charges that the cola majors were selling soft drinks laced with pesticides.

After a two-and-a-half-hour meeting of the committee, its chairman Sharad Pawar indicated that the delegation — drawn from the CII and the Ficci — that will be called for deposition might include soft drink officials. “(The) JPC has no hesitation in meeting Coke and Pepsi,” he said.

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