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Regulate soft drink firms' operations, urge activists
George Iype |
August 06, 2003 17:44 IST
The findings of the study done by the Centre for Science and Environment that popular soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi contain traces of toxic pesticides and insecticides have prompted health experts and activists to ask the government to urgently regulate the soft drinks manufacturers' operations in India.
The CSE study released on Tuesday said that the soft drinks produced in the country contain deadly health hazards such as lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos.
"The market share of the soft drinks manufacturers is going up tremendously with new marketing jargons, but the health of the people of India is going down because they are drinking poisonous substances in the name of soft drinks," pointed out Dr P V Unnikrishnan, spokesperson for the Bangalore-based People's Health Movement, one of Asia's largest voluntary groups in health sector.
He told rediff.com that there is no need to doubt the authenticity of the CSE findings.
"CSE has got one of the best, state-of-the-art laboratories in this part of the world. The findings are therefore convincing and there should be strict, immediate action against cola manufacturers in the country," Dr Unnikrishnan said.
He said one of the proofs that the soft drinks sector has become a 'poisonous and dangerous' industry in the country is the Coke plant at Plachimada in Kerala's Palakkad district.
A recent BBC study said that the sludge from the Coke plant supplied to local farmers as fertilizer contains cadmium and lead, which can accumulate in the kidneys, with, repeated exposure possibly causing kidney failure and result in various other diseases.
On Wednesday, the Kerala Pollution Control Board also announced that the sludge showed presence of cadmium in much higher concentration than the permissible level.
According to Dr Unnikrishnan, if we correlate the findings from the BBC, the CSE and the Kerala Pollution Control Board, it becomes clear that "the soft drinks plants in India do not have any quality control measurements."
Quality of products including soft drinks sold by the American and European multinational companies in India are below standard.
"Similar products -- whether it is Coke, Pepsi, or any other soft drink, or medicine or pharmaceutical product -- that the MNCs sell in America and India are different," he said.
Agrees Deepan Kumar, a medical activist with Care for Health, an NGO working across the southern India villages: "Many international studies have revealed that the consumption of soft drinks is riddled with health hazards."
He says the most commonly associated health risks are obesity, diabetes and other blood sugar disorders, tooth decay, osteoporosis and bone fractures, nutritional deficiencies, heart disease, food addictions and eating disorders, neurotransmitter dysfunction from chemical sweeteners, and neurological and adrenal disorders from excessive caffeine.
"A common problem found in many teenagers in India today is general gastrointestinal distress. It may be because of the residues of pesticides in the soft drinks," Kumar told rediff.com.
He said excessive drinking of soft drinks results in increased stomach acid levels requiring acid inhibitors and moderate to severe gastric inflammation with possible stomach lining erosion.
"I do not know why people drink soft drinks so madly, because the pesticides contained in them can even result in cancer, damage to the nervous and reproductive systems, birth defects and severe disruption of the immune system," he added.
Dr Unnikrishnan says there are double standards when it comes to quality of products by multinationals sold in India. "For instance, to purify water for making the soft drinks, it goes through a series of cleaning processes. Serious quality control even for purifying water and water derivates do not exist in India," he said.
He said there is utter confusion about the kinds of ingredients used in Coke and Pepsi. "When the waste and the sludge from such factories contains hazardous chemicals, it is no wonder that their end products also have similar poisonous contents," Dr Unnikrishnan argued.
He said the CSE findings are an 'eye opener.'
"Soft drinks production without any government control is a direct assault on the health of the nation. It is the ugly face of globalisation that the Third World countries like India is facing," he added.