The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) investigating pesticide contamination in soft drinks and beverages tabled its final report in Parliament, corroborating the findings of the Centre for Science & Environment (CSE) that leading Coca-Cola and Pepsi brands contained hazardous pesticides.
The Central Food Laboratory (CFL) at Mysore and Kolkata, which independently analysed the same 12 brands in which CSE had found pesticide residues, detected the presence of organochlorine and organophosphorus pesticides.
“CSE stands corroborated on its finding of pesticide residues but their quantities vary widely. But these variations can be attributed to a host of factors like manufacturing locations, date of manufacture and storage conditions,” said the report. It also praised the NGO for its whistleblowing act.
CFL Mysore detected 0.00132 mg of organochlorine pesticide per litre in Coca-Cola and 0.000008 mg per litre in Pepsi. This was much lower than .0044 mg/l of the same compounds detected by CSE in Coke and 0.0035 mg/l in Pepsi.
CSE’s Sunita Narain said she was thrilled by the JPC report as it was a vindication of the NGO’s stand. “The committee has endorsed the concerns of public health in the country and it puts to rest the entire cola companies versus CSE debate,” she added.
Both the cola companies in question claimed that they haven’t been pulled in by the report. “We are reviewing the JPC report. We share the government’s interest in protecting consumer health which is why we have always produced beverages that are made according to the same high quality standards we use around the world. We are confident that the safety of Indian consumers can be ensured by establishing scientific, health-based safety standards that are consistent with internationally accepted norms,” said an official statement from Pepsi Foods India.
“Our products made in India are safe and world-class. We follow one quality system across the world. Our products already meet the science-based norms recommended by JPC. We look forward to the government finalising the scientific norms for the country,” said Sunil Gupta, VP (corporate affairs), Coca-Cola India.
The report said that the zero pesticide norms that apply in Europe need not be the standard in India but felt that the MNC cola companies being the two biggest players in the market, must set an example.
The JPC report also dismissed the argument that the residues could be because of the sugar used and not the water. “The soft drinks companies are already purifying sugar syrup with hot carbon treatment process, which reduces pesticide residues to below detectable levels. Therefore sugar cannot be the only source of contamination,” it said.
The cola companies together with industry lobbies had contended that fruit juices also be governed by the same guidelines as carbonated drinks.
But the committee said that the two categories cannot be clubbed. Moreover, fruit juices are a multi-component system where water is an ingredient but not the main ingredient, unlike soft drinks which contain more than 80 per cent water.