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Pesticide content: SC quashes action against Pepsi

Last updated on: November 19, 2010 13:46 IST

Pesticide content: SC quashes action against Pepsi

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BS Reporter in New Delhi

Company argued it was following globally accepted norms.

The Supreme Court on Friday quashed the prosecution of soft drink giant PepsiCo by the Kerala government over the pesticide content found in its bottles picked at random from the market.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Altamash Kabir set aside the criminal proceedings, mainly accepting the argument of the company that there was no law or standard governing pesticide adulteration in cold drinks.

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Image: PepsiCo office.

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The company had argued that it was following universally accepted norms with regard to pesticide residue in food articles.

Neither the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, nor the rules under it dealt with pesticide residue, it said.

On the other hand, the state government relied on a report of the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based NGO which had conducted a study regarding the presence of different pesticides in Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. It had found residues of Organochlorine pesticides in the samples.

According to the tests conducted by the Pollution Monitoring Laboratory of CSE, all the samples contained residues of four extremely toxic pesticides and insecticides: lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos.

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Image: Sachin Tendulkar in a Pepsi ad.

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According to test results, the groundwater used for making soft drinks had levels of pesticide residues, which far exceeded the maximum residue limit for pesticides in water used as 'food', set down by the European Economic Commission.

In all PepsiCo brands, the total pesticides on average were 0.0180 mg/litre, 36 times higher than the EEC limit of total pesticides at 0.0005 mg/l.

PepsiCo cheers verdict

The beverage industry has cheered the verdict of the Supreme Court in the PepsiCo versus Kerala government matter, saying they stand vindicated following the order which sets aside criminal proceedings initiated against the company by the latter.

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When contacted, a spokesperson for CSE said Pepsi's stand was not incorrect since there were no standards for pesticide adulteration prescribed at that time.

"We are not directly involved in this matter," the spokesperson said. "Our report was merely used by the Kerala government to arrive at its observations," he said.

A PepsiCo spokesperson said, "PepsiCo has always been committed to ensuring world class quality of its products manufactured everywhere in the world and diligently follows all statutory and regulatory requirements.

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Image: PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi.
Photographs: Reuters
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"The verdict of is a reaffirmation of this commitment of ours."

Sources within CSE say it was after the release of its first report in 2003 that a joint parliamentary committee was set up with two terms of reference: one, to figure out whether the CSE study was correct.

Second, to assess the need for setting up standards for pesticide residues in soft drinks.

"Our second report in 2006 was a follow-up to the first to figure out whether the beverage industry had made some progress since the first report," said the source.

"But persticide levels were still high," he said.

"It was then that we began engaging with the government to put in place standards for soft drinks."

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As things stand now, India is the only country to have standards on pesticide residues in finished bottles of soft drinks.
In countries abroad, the trend is to have pesticide regulation only on ingredients, not on finished products.

According to beverage industry sources, the standards are stringent saying that a bottle of soft drink can contain 'one part per billion of individual pesticide residue in carbonated water'.

In baby food, for instance, the standard prescribed is 'ten parts per billion of individual pesticide residue'. Even then cola companies follow these stringent norms, argue sources from within the beverage industry.

An official from a cola company, who declined to be identified, says these standards were put in place following the initiative of the government a few years ago, which set up a committee comprising members of the beverage industry, the government and CSE.



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