Kerala’s decision to shut down the production units of Coke and Pepsi in response to the CSE’s study that found unacceptable levels of pesticide residue in the colas, smacks of classic political chicanery. No one can doubt that the presence of pesticides in any form of food or drink is a serious issue. But surely, CPI(M) Chief Minister VS Achutanandan ought to know that throwing out the soft drinks manufacturers from his state will not rid Kerala’s groundwater of pesticide residue. Or the DDT from milk, or cadmium and arsenic from vegetables. Considering that the Union Ministry of Health, which has just set up a panel to fix the permissible limits of pesticide residues in carbonated drinks, is seized of the issue, the Kerala action was arbitrary and authoritarian.
Unfortunately, it appears that Kerala and some other states are allowing politics to dictate a serious health-related agenda. Mr Achutanandan and the CPI(M)’s opposition to a Coca-Cola plant in Palakkad district goes back some years. Their claim that the plant’s use of groundwater has led to water shortage in the region was thrown out by the courts and denied by local panchayats. Clearly, the agitation was nothing but a vendetta against the ‘big bad multinationals’. It is, of course, a commentary on just how far some desperate politicians will go to pander their pet peeves.
Pesticides in the colas are not coming out of thin air, or being maliciously added by the multinationals. The residues are part of the groundwater and sugar. The state government should be more worried about the water or the sugar used by millions of people, rather than a few hundred thousand who may take a soft drink now and then. Will Mr Achutanandan’s government be brave enough to provide details of the pesticide residue in the water in various municipalities and cities of the state? Or insist that the fruit and vegetables sold meet some minimum criteria in terms of pesticide residue? We hold no brief for the cola majors. But surely they cannot be singled out for such treatment. If our governments want to set high levels of purity in food products, we can only commend their efforts, provided they were applied across the board.