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More than soft drinks, hard facts

india Updated: Aug 24, 2006 03:55 IST

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It seems you can you have your Coke and drink it too? The controversy is getting curiouser with Minister of Health and Family Welfare Anbumani Ramadoss questioning the findings of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on pesticide levels in colas. This will raise some pertinent questions, for the Health Minister’s clarification was apparently made on the basis of tests, done on samples at Mysore and Gujarat, which described the CSE’s report as ‘inconclusive’.

Could the same standards that were adopted to test the samples then be incorporated into a solid policy? That would have avoided all this hue and cry in the first place. After all, even the Joint Parliamentary Committee that was set up in 2003 to resolve the debate had called for final product standards for carbonated beverages. In any case, if the Bureau of Indian Standards can set purity standards for soft drinks, why can’t it watchdog the presence of chemicals and pesticides in colas as well? It’s time the Centre formed a ‘working group’ of officials from the water industry, state governments and environmental groups to draw up such standards.

The government’s decision to establish a ‘high-level committee’ to advise on contamination limits, not only in carbonated beverages but also in fruits and vegetable juices and other finished products, is a step in the right direction. For far too long has this debate over pesticide levels in colas detracted from the larger issue of contamination of food and water. Scant attention is paid to the substantially greater pesticides and chemicals residue that contaminate our food, water and soil. An Indian Council of Medical Research study actually found pesticide residues in over 50 per cent of food items that it tested, with 20 per cent of these commodities containing pesticides above the maximum residue limit. It is an open secret that residue levels in dairy products often exceed the guidelines of the WHO and the Indian Health Ministry.

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