Parliamentary Committee Confirms Pesticides in Coca-Cola
By Rama Lakshmi
Special to The Washington Post
February 5, 2004

NEW DELHI -- A parliamentary committee on Wednesday upheld findings by an environmental group that drinks made in India by PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. contained unacceptable amounts of pesticide residue. The panel also urged the Indian government to set new and stronger health standards for all beverages sold in the country.

The 15-member committee released its 180-page report in Parliament six months after the Center for Science and Environment, a private watchdog group based in New Delhi, asserted that 12 brands of soda made by the two American companies contained high levels of four extremely toxic pesticides: lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos. The group said these pesticides could damage the human nervous system.

The report said the center was "correct on the presence of pesticide residues in carbonated water in respect of three samples each of 12 brand products of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola."

PepsiCo and Coca-Cola responded by saying their beverages in India were safe and that they followed the same standards here as in the rest of the world.

"We are happy to have this dialogue about quality that would move toward building confidence of consumers, as long as it is based on scientific findings by accredited laboratories," said David Cox, Asia spokesman for Coca-Cola.

A written statement by PepsiCo said that the "safety of Indian consumers can be ensured by establishing scientific, health-based safety standards."

The report contradicted a statement made in August by Health Minister Sushma Swaraj, who told Parliament that independent tests conducted in government laboratories showed pesticide residues, but that they were not as high as the environmental group had claimed. Opposition lawmakers accused the minister of hurriedly absolving the soft drink manufacturers and demanded that a joint parliamentary committee be set up to investigate.

The report released Wednesday also criticized Indian regulations on pesticide residue and public safety, and called on the government to set stringent safety standards for food and beverages.

"The fact that pesticides were found in Pepsi and Coke bottles is beyond doubt," said Prithviraj Chavan, a member of the parliamentary committee. "But the question we need to ask is, did they break any Indian law? Are the Indian laws strong enough? The answer is no. Indian safety standards are very poor."

The Center for Science and Environment called the report a victory for Indian democracy.

"The issue of public health and safety has been vindicated today," said Sunita Narain, head of the group. "The report has set an agenda that goes beyond the current controversy about Pepsi and Coke and looks at the larger issue of pesticide regulation, groundwater contamination and the utter lack of accountability of government institutions on these matters. Their report is historic and reads almost like a manifesto for environmental action in the country."

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