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Ministry finds sugary excuse

New Delhi, Aug. 6: Finalised four months ago by the Bureau of Indian Standards, the maximum permissible limits for pesticides in soft drinks appear trapped in a debate over how much pesticide sugar contributes.

While the government notified pesticide limits for water that goes into soft drinks in October 2004, the limits of pesticide residues and caffeine in soft drinks — finalised by the BIS in March this year — have not been notified.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has charged the health ministry with attempting to stall notification of the standards. The limits set are 0.1 part per billion (ppb) for single pesticide and 0.5 ppb for total pesticide residues in soft drinks.

Health ministry sources said gaping holes in data about pesticides used on sugarcane crop have stymied efforts to fix the limits for pesticides in soft drinks. The ministry has also raised questions about the data the BIS committee used.

Sources said 24 pesticides are registered for use on sugarcane, but maximum residual limits for 12 pesticides have yet to be fixed. These limits can be fixed only through field studies on residual levels from three cropping seasons. This data is not available.

But BIS committee members said sugar is unlikely to be the main source of pesticide residues in soft drinks. Tests have shown that refined and processed sugar used in soft drinks does not contribute significantly to residues.

“Refined sugar has a crystal structure that does not retain pesticides,” a committee member said.

The members also said it is “ridiculous” to suggest that the standards were arrived at in an arbitrary manner.

“Industry representatives who attended meetings had clearly indicated that they are achievable,” they said.

A soft drink usually contains 89 per cent water, 9 per cent sugar and 1 per cent of proprietary ingredients.

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