New Delhi, Sept. 16: The joint parliamentary committee probing pesticide contamination in soft drinks has expanded the ambit of its investigations to cover all packed beverages, including iced tea and fruit juices.
Committee chairman Sharad Pawar said the panel will set a safety standard for all beverages that contain water. These include reconstituted milk products and even alcoholic drinks such as whisky and beer which use water as an ingredient.
“The JPC’s terms of reference are to suggest criteria for evolving suitable safety standards for soft drinks, juices and other beverages like milk and liquor where water is the main ingredient,” the Nationalist Congress Party leader said.
The 15-member panel — set up last month to probe the report of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) which alleged high pesticide levels in 12 soft drink brands marketed by Coca-Cola and Pepsi — met for the first time today.
The committee sat through presentations from Council for Scientific and Industrial Research chief R.A. Mashelkar and experts from two premier laboratories — the Central Food Laboratory and the Central Food Technological Research Institute — which had earlier tested the soft drink samples.
The meeting ended with the decision to ask the Lok Sabha Speaker to enlist the help of three scientists to thrash out technical issues. The panel has asked for G. Thiagrajan, .P. Agnihotri and S.K. Khanna, experts in the field of pesticide monitoring, agriculture and toxicology.
Some committee members said Mashelkar failed to convince the panel why the CSE report, which claimed that the 12 brands contained pesticides at least 30 times higher than international levels, should not be taken seriously. Others, however, said it was a routine question-answer session and the question of “convincing or not convincing the JPC did not arise”.
The committee, in certain respects, felt out of depth as crucial decisions hinge on technical and scientific knowledge. For instance, the method of testing and the quality of laboratories will be key to decisions the committee might take.
“We have, therefore, decided to seek professional help from scientists,” sources said. The committee will meet again on October 9 and 10.
The meeting began on a confusing note. To start with, there was confusion on the terms of reference before the committee and its scope — whether they included alcoholic beverages or not.
There was also confusion on whether the committee should probe the issue of contaminated ground water, an issue the CSE has repeatedly raised. Some members insisted on including ground water, which is at the root of all contamination. Others said it was too early to widen the scope of the investigation to such an extent.
Those in favour of including ground water in the probe said the committee should ask state ground water boards to give the current status report on the quality of water. Sources said Mashelkar was against bringing ground water under the purview of the committee.