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`EU water norms for finished beverages will be tough to follow'

Our Bureau

Chennai , Oct 1

MUCH water, indeed, has flowed under the bridge since the controversy over pesticide residue levels in beverages broke out in early August.

While the Government has constituted a Joint Parliamentary Committee to recommend criteria for standards for beverages and investigate the findings of the Centre for Science and Environment, what is of immediate concern to the beverage industry is the draft rules for pesticide limits in beverages notified by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on August 26.

This proposed regulation, industry sources say, effectively applies EU drinking water standards to finished beverages, including fruit juices.

The draft standard is intended to limit the amount of pesticide residues to 0.0001mg/ litre for individual pesticides and 0.0005 mg/litre for total pesticide residues in carbonated water, fruit and vegetable juices, fruit syrup, fruit squash, fruit beverage or fruit drink, soft drink concentrate and ready-to-serve beverages.

Industry sources say that there are several implications if the Government were to extend EU drinking water norms for pesticides to finished beverages.

They say that the EU and WHO do not apply drinking water pesticide residue standards to finished beverages and doing this in India would be "unprecedented and counter to international norms".

Industry officials contend that applying the "passing through principle", if the raw water and ingredients used in beverages meet standards, the finished product will too.

They point out that the EU, the US and Codex set maximum residue levels for primary agricultural commodities and drinking water only and not on finished products.

"This is an accepted practice that ensures safety of processed food products and drinks," explain officials. Pesticide residue standards internationally and currently also in India are based on health risk assessments taking into account toxicological data, consumption patterns and acceptable daily intake, these sources add.

Senior beverage industry officials, who spoke to Business Line, say if the yardstick of drinking water standards were to be applied to finished beverages, most juices, ready-to-drink teas and sugar-sweetened finished beverages would not be able to meet the proposed standards as the acceptable and safe residual levels for agricultural produce which goes into juices would be higher than the drinking water standards for water.

Referring to the public alarm caused by the release of the report by the CSE, industry officials say that the report incorrectly applied a EU drinking water standard to finished beverages and drew "unscientific conclusions" that pesticide levels found over EU water limits were unsafe.

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