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The Rediff Interview/Uttam Khobragade, commissioner, MFDA
'We have found pesticide in 4 Pepsi drinks'
August 23, 2003
On August 5, 2003, a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, Centre for Science and Environment, published a report stating that 12 soft drinks sold in and around the capital contain a deadly cocktail of pesticide residues.
What followed were a series of protests against the cola majors and slew of tests conducted by the state governments.
On August 21, Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Parliament that the samples tested by two government labs were 'well within the safety limits' prescribed for packaged drinking water at present.
In view of the vast difference between the CSE report and that of the government's a Joint Parliamentary Committee was set up to probe the issue.
Maharashtra Food and Drugs Administration, too, conducted certain tests and found the presence of a particular pesticide in four of PepsiCo's products.
Uttam Khobragade, commissioner, MFDA, spoke to Chief Correspondent Syed Firdaus Ashraf about the findings of the test. Excerpts:
The Union government has already cleared Pepsi. But what are MFDA's findings?
The Union government has not said that the colas do not contain any pesticide. The Centre said they do contain pesticides, but well within the norms which are prevailing today. This is also our stance. In Pepsi's Roha factory, we found a particular pesticide in four of their products -- Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Lehar Pepsi and Miranda Orange.
What kind of pesticide is there in these drinks?
These drinks contain Lindane. But it does not violate any law. We are only making the people aware that these drinks do contain pesticides and it is up to them to decide whether to drink it or not.
Legally, we cannot take any action because the companies are not violating any laws. This is exactly what the central government had said. If you want to call it, `we have given them a clean chit', then it is up to you.
Can we drink Pepsi then?
Let us talk about milk -- the 'drink' that is most common in India. It has more pesticides than soft drinks. But milk also contains nutrition. It is essential for life and people have not stopped drinking milk.
For soft drinks also it is up to the people to decide whether they want to drink Pepsi or not.
Who am I to decide whether people should drink Pepsi or not? My duty is just to inform them about our findings.
So what is new in your report?
It has nothing new. We tested some samples and we got the results. As earlier stated, so far four products have tested positive for pesticide. Other plants' results are awaited.
What about Coke?
As per the results from its Pune plant, Coke does not contain any detectable pesticide. We are awaiting the results from its other plants.
What action are you taking against Pepsi?
We are examining the issue. If we find that they have violated any law, we will take action.
But there was a report stating that you cannot take action against Pepsi under the present norms?
The norms are applicable from January 2004. They have four months to adjust and perhaps they will improve.
What notice have you sent?
They will have to first investigate the issue from their side. They will also have to convince us that they have not violated any law. Then they will have to examine the source of the pesticides. The onus now rests on them.
The central government said there was a permissible limit for pesticides in soft drinks. What is the permissible limit?
Basically, there is no standard prescribed for carbonated water in the country. Thus, we cannot say that the companies have violated any law. Right now, we can only pressurise them to improve the standard.
What about the EU norms? Are these soft drink makers following those norms?
For carbonated water, we are contemplating to introduce the norms that we have already adopted for bottled drinking water.
Have you spoken to the Pepsi officials?
Yes, they said they will not dispatch the goods that are in the factory and assured us that they will also investigate the source of the pesticides. If they improve the standard, then our purpose is solved.
Then can we say that it is not dangerous to drink Pepsi?
I cannot say that. It is too scientific a statement. It is the people's decision. If they want to drink, let them drink. If not, then let it be so.