Coke and Pepsi Told to Spill Secrets or Face Ban
Bombay: INDIA’S highest court yesterday demanded that Coca-Cola should
reveal its secret formula for the first time in 120 years. The Supreme
Court ordered the US soft drinks maker, along with its rival PepsiCo,
to supply details of the chemical composition and ingredients of their
products after a study released this week claimed that they contained
unacceptable levels of insecticides.
Justice S. B. Sinha and Justice Dalveer Bhandari directed the companies
to file their replies within four weeks, the Press Trust of India
reported. “If they don’t comply, then the court has the authority
to suspend sales,” Shreyas Patel, a lawyer at Fox Mandal Little, India’s
oldest law firm, said. “But no one is going to give away a 120-year-old
secret, especially in a country like India. Someone would go and make
Coca-Cola’s original recipe, according to company policy, is kept
in a bank vault in Atlanta where only two executives — banned from
travelling on the same aircraft — know it.
The court order followed the release of a report by the Centre for
Science and Environment, a non-government body, which contended that
11 brands sold by the two soft drinks makers contained high levels
of pesticide residues. The organisation said that samples from 12
states showed that Pepsi products contained 30 times more pesticides
than in 2003, when a similar study was conducted. Coke samples had
25 times the amount of pesticides as three years ago.
The report, published on Wednesday, caused a row in India’s lower
house, where MPs from across the political spectrum brandished its
findings as reason enough to ban the sale of Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
“These companies are playing with the lives of millions and we can’t
ignore such warnings any more,” said Vijay Kumar Malhotra, from the
main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which staged a walkout over
the issue .
It is not the first time Coca-Cola and Pepsi have found themselves
mired in controversy in India. They are regular whipping boys for
politicians who regard Western food products as a threat to Indian
heritage, although sceptics suggest that their opposition has more
to do with the companies’ virtual monopoly of the market than genuinely
held feelings of cultural protectionism.
The US companies joined forces through the Indian Soft Drink Manufacturers’
Association to reject the findings of the study. “Consumer safety
is paramount to us,” they said. “The soft drinks manufactured in India
comply with stringent international norms and all applicable national
The Bureau of Indian Standards, the highest government body to maintain
product quality certification, has set a pesticide standard for bottled
water but not for soft drinks.
In 2003, at the time of the last report, pesticide claims provoked
a backlash. Schools banned colas, and fruit juice sales boomed as
yoga gurus reminded people of the value of healthy drinking. Coca-Cola’s
sales dropped by as much as 11 per cent in the subsequent financial
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