Coke and Pepsi Told to Spill Secrets or Face Ban
By Ashling O'Connor
The Times
August 05, 2006

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 it themselves.”

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 regulations.”

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 quarter.

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