In its final report which is expected to be tabled in Parliament on February 4, the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) has recommended adoption of highest norms for the ‘water’ that is used in making of carbonated soft drinks and not the ‘finished product’.
As per the final recommendations of the report, a copy of which is with FE, ‘the water used in manufacturing the soft drinks should be in conformity with the new norms which have already been notified under notification No GSR 554 (E) dated July 18, 2003 prescribing standards of 0.0001mg/litre for individual pesticides and 0.0005 mg/litre for total pesticides.” The standard as of now is applicable for packaged drinking water only and is effective since January 1, 2004.
The same norms, however, have been prescribed in the draft notification issued on August 28, 2003, for soft drinks and other beverages like juices on the plea that water is the main constituent in these. The committee has, however, noted that soft drinks cannot be clubbed with fruit juices.
The JPC has also ruled out that sugar may not be the only source of pesticide residue since cola companies were already purifying the sugar syrup with hot treatment process. However, it has recommended that a ‘thorough scientific study of the source of contamination in soft drinks, ingredients used and processes adopted should be taken.’
The committee has also shown its satisfaction on the chances of pesticides entering the product through the concentrate or other acids or flavours and colours. “So far as other ingredients are concerned, their percentage is not significant.” The Committee report, therefore, says that ‘in case the standards of water are strictly adhered to and the entry of pesticides could be checked to a large extent by prescribing MRLs (maximum residue levels) for all the pesticides which are used in the case of sugarcane, this problem can be tackled to a large extent. The Committee, therefore, recommends that standards that are best suited for the Indian conditions need to be fixed in the overall perspective of CODEX standards in due course of time.’
The committee on the recommendation of the BIS technical committee has also advocated restriction on use of caffeine in carbonated beverages. The label on caffeinated beverage must include advisory statements that the beverage contains caffeine and is not recommended for children, pregnant or lactating women and individuals sensitive to caffeine, the report notes.
The JPC has also come down heavily on the government for its ‘knee-jerk- reaction in setting up draft notifications based on EU norms. “The action taken recently by the concerned ministries is more a result of knee-jerk reaction to the entire issue of presence of pesticides in soft drinks rather than any systematic approach based on scientific studies,” it notes.
Meanwhile, the committee in its yet to be tabled report, is believed to have questioned CSE for not giving a sample of the results to the government before making them public, informed health ministry sources say. More importantly, the quantum of ‘pesticides’ found in soft drinks as per CSE’s report has also been questioned by the JPC report, a top official in the health ministry said.
Union health minister Sushma Swaraj, however, refused to comment on the soon-to-be released report. “The report has not been finalised as yet, I can comment on it only after it’s tabled in the Parliament,” she told FE.
A health ministry official, however, was more forthcoming. “On the face of it, it seems to be a fair report, there seems to be no favouritism. However, the report has not given a clean chit to CSE either though it has acknowledged that the NGO is doing a good job,” he said.
CSE director Sunita Narain, when contacted, said, “I’m looking forward to the report to come out and would like to comment only once I see it.” However, she admitted that CSE was not an accredited laboratory neither was CFL-CFTRI lab. In any case, as per the records only seven labs are accredited in the country.
The official added that the report had said that there should be norms for water used in colas and not the finished products. He added that the report has indicted cola majors for misleading consumers by claiming their products are safe and pure through their advertisements.
Coca-Cola India president and CEO Mr Sanjiv Gupta, meanwhile, refused to comment.