THE PESTICIDE content in your bottle of Pepsi or Coca-Cola is now much higher than before and the government has not been able to do much to check it, says the Centre for Science and Environment.
Three years after the CSE first broke the 'pesticide in colas' story — leading to an investigation by a joint parliamentary committee — its director Sunita Narain claimed on Wednesday that the pesticide residue in soft drinks was 23 times the benchmark for bottled drinking water.
Releasing the report, 'Soft Drinks-Hard Truths-II', based on 57 samples from 12 cities, Narain said, "We're back to say that nothing has changed. It has gone worse." The drinks still posed a risk to long-term human health after a long battle, she said.
The NGO blamed the government, especially the Health Ministry, for no improvement. Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, however, said: "The CSE should've come to the government with its findings. There was no need to jump the gun and hold a media trial."
Pepsi and Coca Cola denied that their products contained pesticides. Coming together under the banner of the Indian Soft Drinks Manufacturers Association, they said: " The soft drinks manufactured in India comply with stringent international norms and all applicable national regulations."
Narain released a letter written by Health Secretary P.K. Hota to Consumer Affairs Secretary L. Mansingh in March 2006, asking the BIS to keep on hold its standards for carbonated beverages till deliberations of the National Level Expert Committee on country-specific standards for pesticide residue were finalised.
Another ground given by Hota in the letter was that specific scientific and technical data on pH, caffeine and pesticide residues had not been provided to his ministry to form a ‘clear opinion’.
Narian said this was not the case. “Data on caffeine and pH was presented before the BIS committee and it was validated by top scientists of the country” she said, contending that it formed basis for the finalisation of standards for carbonated beverages by the BIS. Narian said it was after Hota’s letter that the Consumer Affairs Ministry got the draft standards withdrawn in June this year.
Ramadoss ruled out any probe to find out whether there were pesticides in colas. “Consumer safety is a priority and the government is doing everything scientifically to ensure that our recommendations and findings are absolutely correct and stand in the court of law,” he said.
Colas have three basic ingredients – concentrate, sugar and water – and since the concentrate is the same, pesticide contamination is possible only through sugar and/or water.