The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Science silence around cola
Sunita Narain

New Delhi, Aug. 27: Scientists in top academic institutions and government laboratories had shunned repeated requests by the Centre for Science and Environment to validate its findings on pesticides in soft drinks, CSE officials have said.

The CSE had approached public institutions in 2003 after it released its first report on pesticides in soft drinks. It had contacted the laboratories again earlier this year, this time seeking technical support to look for another possible contaminant in soft drinks.

Virtually all the laboratories, including two Indian institutes of technology, turned down the request, CSE director Sunita Narain said.

“They all had excuses. Some said their equipment was out of order, some said the issue was sensitive, and some said they couldn’t work on this without permission,” Narain said.

The CSE, which released its second report on pesticide residues in soft drinks earlier this month, is now battling charges that it did not validate its findings through independent scientists and that it might have botched the tests.

Narain said she had talked with senior faculty at the IITs in Kanpur and Chennai, among other government and university centres that had expertise and facilities for analytical chemistry.

A senior professor at IIT Chennai told The Telegraph that, on a request from Narain, he had tried to convince colleagues in Chennai and other IITs to work with CSE. “I spoke to several people. They all refused,” the professor said, requesting not to be named. “My understanding was that they were scared or had been told from the top not to do this.”

“Our experience shows that on hot and controversial issues, Indian scientists are reluctant or just refuse to engage,” Narain said.

The CSE had also sent an email “appeal” to scientists on its mailing list seeking technical support and independent authentication of its earlier findings. “We wanted our data to be corroborated by others,” said Chandra Bhushan, CSE associate director.

Narain said only one government research centre agreed to try and validate the CSE’s findings, but “only on an informal basis”, and on the condition that whatever results the exercise threw up would not be made public.

Earlier this year, the CSE had again approached at least 15 academic and government laboratories, this time asking them to look for “another likely contaminant” in soft drinks, Narain said. “All public labs turned us down. Only three commercial labs agreed to do the test.”

CSE officials declined to name the government scientists they had contacted. “Some are friends and we’re in touch with them on a regular basis on other issues,” said Bhushan.

An expert committee set up by the health ministry to review the CSE’s scientific report on pesticide residues had picked holes in it and declared on Monday that the CSE’s findings are “inconclusive”.

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