Aug. 6: The report alleging pesticides content in 12 soft drinks at higher than permissible levels blew up in the face of Coca-Cola and Pepsi with Parliament banning the so-called dirty dozen on its premises.
Worse, at street corners the buzz was whether or not globalising India would stop sipping the juice of the world’s best known consumer icons.
At a bus stop this morning in Delhi’s Greater Kailash II, a mother was heard telling another: “I forced my daughter (a teenager) to watch the programme on TV so that she knows what she’s drinking.”
She was referring to last night’s news reports on the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) findings from tests the NGO had done on samples of Coke and Pepsi drinks that found pesticide levels at least 30 times higher than international standards.
Coke and Pepsi certified their products as safe in a rare joint appearance after the report was made public.
In as rare an instance — of acting with speed — parliamentarians today decided to banish the drinks from the three canteens within the complex and chose to go on a diet of lassi, butter milk, coconut water and nimboo pani. Not only the drinks, even advertisements promoting the 12 brands are being removed.
A Pepsi spokesperson called the decision a result of panic caused by the CSE report that she said had been presented in a “sensational” way.
Coke put the cap firmly on its mouth. A spokesman would only say he can’t take calls because he is on a plane.
On the ground, however, the odds just kept piling up. In Maharashtra, the Food and Drug Administration ordered an inquiry into the process of manufacturing of the two companies. Samples from the plants will be sent to a government laboratory.
“The concentrate for the colas comes in powdered form. It is mixed with water at the bottling plants,” said U. Khobragade, commissioner, FDA.
“The tests will prove whether pesticides are present in the water or the concentrate.”
In Calcutta, the health department will start collecting random samples for testing at a government laboratory. The director of health services, Prabhakar Chatterjee, said the government considered it an issue of “grave importance”.
“It is likely that if a public stand is taken by the government, we will have to decide what to do,” said a spokesperson for a five-star hotel in Calcutta when asked if the drinks would continue to be served to clients.
Five-star hotels and most leading restaurants in Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta stuck to that policy but at least one in the capital — Le Meridien — reported lower sales. Most such hotels, however, serve canned drinks which have not been tested by the CSE.
Le Meridien’s general manager Tarun Thukral said the hotel was selling the drinks because there was no government confirmation yet of the CSE report. The Delhi government’s prevention of food adulteration department had tested samples earlier and the result was clean.
Still, the state health minister held a meeting with the Bureau of Indian Standards that sets quality norms amid indications that rules would be made more stringent.
Before making a decision, most hotels and restaurants were waiting for some signal from the government or from the companies — it was clear the two would have to offer more than a verbal assurance about quality which they did yesterday.
For instance, Speciality Restaurants, owners of national brands such as Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta, has not waited. It has pulled the drinks off the menu “in public interest” till there is a clarification.
“We have had requests through the day for aerated drinks, but we have told clients that they are off the menu for now,” said a spokesperson for the company which runs restaurants in six Indian cities.