The Supreme Court has issued notices to two cola giants on a PIL that followed the report revealing unacceptable amounts of pesticide residues in colas. The fact that this issue has resurfaced on the same lines as it did in August 2003 shows that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Despite a joint parliamentary committee and much ado about the issue, neither the consumer nor the cola companies have been able to get a clear-cut resolution of the issue. In a country like India where all foodstuff has unusually high levels of pesticides, the government has to arrive at some kind of consensus as to what constitutes safe levels in colas, other foodstuff and, indeed, the very water that we drink.
Food packaging and processing companies come at the end of the chain that begins with the misuse of pesticide on farms, leading to contamination of water sources as well as the foodstuff grown. Tackling the problem at the end of the chain will not be of much help. The only way to do it in a reasonable way is to handle it at both ends — the production and the processing. Clearly, having a Food Safety Bill is insufficient because it does not look at the problem in a holistic manner. Undoubtedly, industry must do its bit by ensuring that enunciated norms are adhered to. But surely there is need to insist that the norms are first set by the government and then met by its own agencies as well. What will it avail if we can get pesticide-free colas, while our drinking water, fruits and vegetables have unacceptably high levels of pesticide residue and chemical content?
The issue of pesticide contamination of our food is much too serious to be focused only on colas, or left to PILs and NGOs, because it affects each and every one of us. For this reason, this must be seen as an issue that requires urgent collective action, rather than a blame game.