Dangerous Pesticides in Coca-Cola and Pepsi in India

Study Three Years Later Shows Cola Companies Have Done Nothing to Improve Quality. For Immediate Release, August 3, 2006.

Contacts: Souparno Banerjee, Centre for Science and Environment (India) +91 11 29955124, +91 11 29955125, E-mail, Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center (US) +1 415 336 7584, E-mail.

San Francisco (August 3, 2006): Coca-Cola and Pepsico carbonated drinks in India contain dangerously high levels of pesticides, according to a new study released yesterday by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a leading public interest research and advocacy group in India.

CSE tested 57 samples of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo carbonated products from 25 different bottling plants across 12 states and found pesticide residues in all samples.

The study found a “cocktail of between three to five different pesticides in all samples” – and on an average, the pesticide residues were 24 times higher than European Union (EU) standards and those proposed by the Bureau of India Standards (BIS), the government body responsible for standardization and quality control.

The study found high levels of:

* Lindane – a confirmed carcinogen – sometimes as high as 140 times those allowed by EU and BIS standards
* Chlorpyrifos – a neurotoxin – sometimes as high as 200 times those allowed by EU and BIS standards
* Heptachlor – which is banned in India and also has not been used in the US since 1988 – was found in 71 per cent of the samples, at levels 4 times higher than the proposed BIS standards.
* Malathion – a pesticide that the US EPA recommends that workers wait at least 12 hours before entering the area of application – were found in 38.6% of the samples tested.

“This is a grave public health scandal,” said Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment and winner of the prestigious 2005 Stockholm Water Prize.

The latest study comes three years after CSE had found similar levels of pesticides in Coca-Cola and Pepsico products. One of the highest ranking bodies possible to be set up in India, the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), was convened to look into the issue of dangerous levels of pesticides in soft drinks. In February 2004, the JPC confirmed the unsafe levels of pesticides in soft drinks, and recommended that the government set standards for these residues in the products. Since then, a committee from the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has convened over 20 meetings to deliberate on the standards, and Coca-Cola, Pepsico, consumer and environmental organizations have all been consulted.

In October 2005, the standards were finalized by the committee, and in March 2006, the committee met again to reconfirm the standards. The BIS has adopted the same standards as the European Union – which stipulates a single residue limit of 0.0001 parts per million and multiple residue limit of 0.0005 parts per million. The proposed standards, however, have been delayed from being implemented, ostensibly to do more research.

The Centre for Science and Environment sees it differently. “Our reason is simple: if soft drinks contain a cocktail of pesticides above stipulated standard, they are unsafe. The companies say there are no stipulated standards. The reason is simple: they don’t allow standards to be formulated. The standards that needed to be set to regulate their safety have been lost in committees or blocked by powerful interests in the government. The soft drink companies and their industry associations had fought tooth and nail against setting up a final product standard,” said CSE in a prepared statement.

The Centre for Science and Environment is demanding that the government implement the standards immediately and make the standards mandatory for the soft drink companies.

Coca-Cola and Pepsico together control about 90% of the carbonated beverage market in India.

The Coca-Cola company is also the target of community campaigns across India accusing the company of creating severe water shortages and pollution around its bottling plants. A number of studies, including those by the government of India, have confirmed the growing water shortages and pollution of groundwater and soil by the Coca-Cola company. One of Coca-Cola’s largest bottling plants in India, in Plachimada in Kerala, has remained shut down since March 2004 because of community opposition and government action.

There is also a growing campaign internationally that is applying pressure on the Coca-Cola company to end its abuses in India. More than ten colleges and universities in the US and UK have taken action against the Coca-Cola company. The company was also recently ejected from the US$ 8 billion TIAA-CREF Social Choice Account because of the international campaign. TIAA-CREF is one of the largest financial services companies in the United States, with over US$ 380 billion in assets.

“This is a classic case of double standards by a large multinational company in India. They are selling sub-standard products in India that could never be sold in Europe,” said Amit Srivastava if the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization. “It is Coca-Cola and Pepsico’s responsibility to deliver a safe product in India, and they have failed to do so even after being informed that their products were toxic three years ago.”

The report by the Centre for Science and Environment can be seen there.

For more information on the campaign to hold Coca-Cola accountable, visit the India Resource.org.

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