Parliament to probe Pepsi, Coke
Thursday, 21 August 2003, 19:30 IST
NEW DELHI: The Indian Parliament Thursday decided to set up a multi-party panel to probe charges of toxin content in multinational soft drinks after the government gave then a clean chit. In a statement in the Lok Sabha, Health Minister Sushma Swaraj dismissed the report of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) alleging 12 soft drink brands of Pepsi and Coca-Cola contained pesticides 40 times more than European Union (E.U.) norms. "The results clearly show that all the 12 samples do not have pesticide residues of the high order as was alleged in the CSE report," Swaraj told the house, provoking instant protests from the opposition. In an immediate reaction, the CSE, a respected green group, regretted the government's decision and said it was considering various options to fight it. "We are disappointed with the government, which gave a clean chit to the companies though seven of the 12 samples tested showed pesticide residues above the prescribed E.U. limit," said CSE director Sunita Narain. "It is unfortunate that, under whatever compulsion, the government chose to give a clean chit to the soft drink companies instead of setting strict norms." The CSE report had caused widespread outrage as millions of Indians reacted to revelations that prominent soft drinks of Pepsi and Coke contained pesticides in quantities that could endanger health severely and even cause cancer or liver damage. Coke and Pepsi were also banned from Parliament premises and many official institutions, while more and more citizens were seen turning to other thirst quenching alternatives, causing a dent in cola sales. Swaraj said: "In some cases they (pesticides) are well below the E.U. standards and some higher. However, according to the standards prescribed by the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Rules, they were well within the safety limits as per the existing standards of packaged drinking water." She said the government's verdict followed an independent assessment by the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore, and the Central Food Laboratory, Kolkata, on 12 brands of soft drinks belonging to the same bottling units from which the CSE had collected its samples. "I would like to assure the honourable members that the soft drinks tested are well within the safety limits prescribed for packaged drinking water at present," she added. The thinly attended house erupted in shouting as members of the opposition and even allies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded an impartial probe. K. Yerran Naidu, leader of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) that supports the government but is not a part of it, remarked: "It is an alarming issue. There should be a debate on this." Accusing the government of selling out to the soft drink multinationals, Satyavrata Chaturvedi of the Congress said: "I want to know how much donation has been given (by Pepsi and Coke) in this case." Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav charged the government with playing with the health of citizens. "This matter does not just concern soft drinks; the health of millions of people are at stake. We demand an impartial probe by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC)," he said. As members chanted slogans demanding a JPC, Swaraj defended the government's verdict stating she was ready to face a JPC with opposition members sans any representative of the government. "(The clean chit) was given not by the government but the CFTRI lab of Mysore that is an internationally reputed organisation." When demands for a JPC panel grew louder, Speaker Manohar Joshi said he would ask the health minister to move a motion to appoint a JPC.