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Pesticola controversy: UK Govt lab gives clean chit to Coke; CSE’s Sunita Narayan alleges bias

15-August-2006
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Pesticola controversy: UK Govt lab gives clean chit to Coke; CSE’s Sunita Narayan alleges bias

The controversy regarding pesticide in cold drinks continues with the latest development being UK Government’s specialised lab, Central Science Laboratory, endorsing Coca-Cola’s claim that its products contain pesticides not more than 0.4 parts per billion, which is less than the limit prescribed by the EU for drinking water.

At a press meet on August 14, 2006 in Delhi, CSL officials said that each of the four pesticides – Malathion, Heptachlor, Lindane and Chlorpyriphos – were present in Coca-Cola’s soft drink brands in less than 0.1 parts per billion. EU prescribes 0.5 per cent as maximum allowable pesticide residue level in drinking water.

Immediately after the CSL announcement, Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE) Sunita Narayan alleged that the UK lab’s test results were biased.

She said that the samples were provided by Coca-Cola and, therefore, these could not be compared to the CSE study, which had collected samples from the open market. “Would such a study, which has been sponsored and funded by Coca-Cola, be used for regulatory purposes in the UK? Moreover, the company’s contention that only a foreign laboratory can test its products is patronising and borders on racism,” she alleged.

Narayan asked, “The question now is, will the government cave in to threats by the US government to delay and prevaricate on this matter which concerns our health? Or will it do what is right: notify the BIS standards immediately?”

Meanwhile, the UK lab’s tests also revealed that there is no discernible difference between the brands in the Indian product portfolio and those manufactured elsewhere in the world. To date in 2006, over 26 samples have been tested. By the end of this year, CSL would analyse more than 100 samples from India to confirm that the products met quality standards, said CSL’s Head of the Analytical Services Unit, Dr Stewart Reynolds.

“It’s not possible to comment on their findings without access to CSE’s raw data, their exact methodology and standard operating procedures. With that caveat, we have said that CSE’s written report does not provide confirmation of identity of the pesticide residues claimed to be found. There is no evidence in the report that even if the pesticides were present, the levels were measured with any accuracy. The report lacks information and details,” he pointed out.

When asked about the authentication of the CSL report, Dr Reynolds said that pesticide residue testing was a complicated technique and required huge expertise. CSL used some of the world’s most advanced testing equipment, including a range of chromatography and mass spectrometry instruments, particularly GC/MS or LC/MS to test for pesticides, he claimed.

“We first extract the sample into fluid solvent, concentrate it, remove other components and separate complex elements by gas chromatography. We look for pesticides by mass spectrometric (MS) method,” he explained.

Representing Coca-Cola at the press meet was Dr D V Darshane from Atlanta, who said, “The quality and standards followed are the same worldwide. There is no difference between the brands in the Indian product portfolio and those manufactured elsewhere in the world.”

CSE had reported that soft drink brands in India had pesticide residue levels much more than what the EU had prescribed for drinking water. Following lab tests, the organisation had found that collected samples of Coke had huge quantities of Lindane (a cancer-causing chemical), Chlorphyrifis (a paralysis causing toxin acting on nerves), Heptachlor and Malathion, which are banned in India, at four times above the BIS standards.

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