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Colas meet Indian norms: Govt
9 out of 12 brands fall short of EU standards

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HAIL FELLOW, WELL MET: Mr Rajiv Bakshi, Chairman, PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt. Ltd., and Mr Sanjiv Gupta, President, Coca-Cola India, hailing the Government's announcement on the pesticides issue in the Capital on Thursday. — Kamal Narang

New Delhi, Aug. 21

IT was once again a day for the cola companies to taste the thunder and the consumer to remain as confused as ever.

On whether or not soft drinks in the country contained pesticides, the much-awaited statement from the Government on Thursday said tests conducted by two Government laboratories had found that samples of nine of the total 12 soft drink brands contained pesticide residue above European Union norms.

In a statement made in Parliament on Thursday, the Union Health Minister, Ms Sushma Swaraj, said only three samples of soft drinks were found to have pesticides below the limits set by the EU norms. However, the 12 soft drink brands were found to meet the existing Indian norms, which have not been the bone of contention in the present controversy.

Soft drink manufacturers were recently put in the dock by the environmental organisation Centre For Science and Environment (CSE), when it revealed in its study that 12 soft drink brands belonging to the Coca-Cola and PepsiCo stable contained pesticide residues.

The Minister's statement follows sample analysis done by two laboratories — the Mysore-based Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) and the Kolkata-based Central Food Laboratory (CFL). "CFTRI has reported that out of 12 samples, pesticide residues were below the EU limits in three samples. In the remaining nine, they were found above the limits. The number of times the residues are higher than the EU limits ranges from 1.6 to 5.2 whereas the CSE report alleges that the number of times the resides were higher than the EU limits range from 11 to 70 times," she said. Similar findings were reported from CFL too.

When the controversy broke out, both the cola majors had maintained that they meet not just the Indian norms but EU norms as well. The Minister said: "The assertion of the soft drink manufacturers that their product is within the EU limits has not proved to be correct for 100 per cent of the samples."

The Government report, however, added to the consumers' confusion in that it did not name the three brands that were found to have pesticide residue limits below EU standards. Analysts tracking the segment point out: "It matters little to the consumer what norms one meets. The point is that the Government report has shown that soft drinks do contain pesticides and that is unsettling."

Adding to the intrigue on the issue, the report points out that the soft drinks meet the safety limits as per the "existing standards of packaged drinking water". Interestingly, only last month, the Government had issued a notification changing the existing norms and prescribing EU limits for pesticide residue in packaged drinking water. These new norms, based on the recommendations of an expert group set up by the Health Ministry, are to take effect from January 1, 2004.

Significantly, as was the case with bottled water, here too the Government is considering introducing EU norms for water content in soft drinks, from the date it would be applicable for bottled water, which is January 1, 2004. Meanwhile, the Government would also ask the Central Committee on Food Standards (CCFS), a technical body under the Health Ministry, to examine application of these standards to other beverages where water is the main constituent.

JPC likely to be set up

MORE action followed in Parliament over the presence of pesticide in soft drinks, with a Joint Parliamentary Committee likely to be set up to look into the controversy.

The Samajwadi Party leader, Mr Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, demanded a JPC inquiry to bring out "all the facts" before the nation, which was accepted by the Speaker, Mr Manohar Joshi. The Health Minister, Ms Sushma Swaraj, responded that the Government had no objection to the constitution of such a committee.

After some members had made queries from the Government on the issue, Mr Joshi said as per the procedure the Government would move a motion for constitution of a JPC.

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