The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre slips out of cola spotlight

New Delhi, Aug. 7: The row over the pesticides content in soft drinks has turned into a swadeshi-versus-videshi duel with the government managing to dodge public scrutiny, at least for the time being.

While announcing its findings that 12 soft drinks contained pesticide levels at least 30 times higher than the international standard, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had blamed their marketing not only on Pepsi and Coca-Cola — the two multinationals manufacturing and supplying the soft drinks — but also the government at the Centre.

However, the government has managed to turn the spotlight on the two companies while ducking the glare.

The CSE has alleged that the carbonated drinks industry in India is virtually unregulated. There is no environmental impact assessment or regulations for the industry. “The multinational companies are allowed to legally sell poison in this country,” said CSE chairperson Sunita Narain.

Responding to the organisation’s revelations, MPs of all political hues have come together to hit out at Pepsi and Coke, but nobody has pointed a finger at the government and its agencies which, in the first place, failed to put in place standards for the firms.

The CSE believes the issue is being politicised and the government is passing the buck to the multinational companies. The food processing ministry, the CSE says, has some answering to do.

According to rules, the soft drinks companies have to get their licences from the food products order department in the food processing ministry. The department of prevention of food adulteration in the health and family welfare ministry is expected to periodically check samples.

The catch is that even when they test samples, they do not look for pesticide residues because the companies are expected to use “potable” — safe — water. The soft drinks firms use 80 to 90 per cent water in their beverages.

Narain said the companies are getting away because “the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act does not treat beverages as food”. It lays down standards of quality for non-alcoholic beverages, but says nothing about pesticide residues.

The department of food products order says: “The water used in the beverages should be potable.” The CSE asked: “What is potable'” The order does not explain.

Health ministry officials said they will get samples of the 12 brands under a cloud tested in their own laboratories before condemning anybody. They are also going to seek a meeting with Pepsi and Coke officials.

But political parties and MPs are not waiting. The food management committee has already banned Pepsi and Coke on Parliament premises.

The CSE said the government has a lot of explaining to do — more than it had to in case of the bottled water controversy.

“There at least we had some guidelines. They had to be upgraded. In this case, there are no rules to regulate soft drinks companies,” said Narain.

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