The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Look to Europe for standards

New Delhi/Calcutta, Aug. 18: The Bureau of Indian Standards today decided that standards for drinking water and for water used in the food processing industry should be aligned with European levels.

This would imply that the same European standards would apply to soft drinks also, where water is the main constituent. Soft drinks made by Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been caught in a controversy after the Centre for Science and Environment alleged in a report that their products contained pesticide residue higher than limits set in Europe.

Both companies have contested the claim.

The bureau had adopted European standards for bottled water in July, after a similar controversy.

At today’s meeting, the bureau considered proposals that European standards should apply to soft drinks since norms for drinking water and all water used in food products would be aligned to those standards. But no decision was taken, sources said.

Even if the bureau were to take a decision, the standards set by it are optional. Licences for carbonated beverages are issued by the ministry of food processing under different rules.

A notification last month had revised norms for bottled water to match European standards. These rules will come into effect from January.

The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act rules that cover soft drinks merely say that the water used should be “potable” without providing a legally binding definition of potable water.

The controversy over soft drinks has been accompanied by allegations of high toxic metal content in the sludge that comes out of some of Coca-Cola’s bottling plants. In a damage-control exercise, Coke brought over an environment expert from the US, who is a consultant to the company, to meet Indian officials.

Accompanied by a battery of senior officials responsible for the company’s India operations, Harry J. Ott called on officials at the Central Pollution Control Board and the ministry of environment.

Ott also met officials of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board last week. “The Coke team had visited our office. The discussions revolved around the high proportion of toxic metals found in the sludge,” confirmed board chairman Hirak Ghosh.

The board had found “significant amounts” of lead and cadmium in the sludge from all the three plants at Jalpaiguri, Taratala and Dankuni.

The Coke team made an hour-long presentation emphasising the company’s adherence to international standards. But the presentation remained silent on the board’s findings.

After a string of negative news, Coke today received a clean chit from Kerala, where the sludge controversy broke. Health director V.K. Rajan was quoted by PTI as saying there was no pesticide content in drinks samples tested at a government lab.

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