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India’s Parliament to Investigate Coke, Pepsi Pesticide Levels; Group Threatens Lawsuit Against the Corporations
(Beyond Pesticides, August 25, 2003) Following recent revelations by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) that major soft drinks sold in India by the Coca-Cola and Pepsi corporations have pesticide residue levels 70 times higher than the limits permitted by the European Economic Commission, India set up a parliamentary commission on Friday to further study these levels.

The commission is expected to submit a report of its findings to the next session of parliament, which convenes in November.

On Thursday, the government claimed that the soft drinks were safe for consumption by Indian standards. The government’s tests show that 12 drinks manufactured by the companies, accounting for 90% of Indian soft drink consumption, meet national health requirements, but have pesticide residue levels above what has been determined to be acceptable by the European Union. The drinks include: Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Diet Pepsi, Mirinda orange, Mirinda lemon, Blue Pepsi, 7-Up, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Limca, Sprite, and Thumbs Up.

The government’s announcement came after Minister of Health and Family Welfare Sushama Swaraj of the ruling BJP party made a controversial statement alleging that "the samples of the soft drinks tested were well within the safety limits as per the existing standards of packaged drinking water." Furious opposition parties accused the BJP of caving in to soft drink special interests. One Congress Party member asked, “How much donation was made before the statement was made?”

Swaraj also claimed that the CSE had been incorrect when it charged that malathion was present in the soft drinks. Malathion has been shown in animal testing and from use experience to affect not only the central nervous system, but the immune system, adrenal glands, liver and blood as well. It is associated with birth defects in domestic and laboratory animals.

In related news, the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) announced on Thursday that it may appeal to the Indian consumer court system to withdraw the offending soft drinks from the nation’s market and ban future sales. CUTS said that it has written to both the Coke and Pepsi demanding that the companies be accountable to consumers. CUTS director Rajan R. Gandhi warned, “If the letters meet with no response, we might take legal recourse as both the cola [manufacturers] are violating not just consumers’ right to information and right to education but more importantly their right to safety as well.”