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Coke accused of supplying toxic fertiliser to farmers

George Iype in Kochi | July 28, 2003 15:35 IST

The Coca-Cola plant in Kerala's Palakkad district has run into serious trouble with a BBC investigative report saying that the sludge produced by the Coke factory contains dangerous toxic chemicals that are polluting the water supplies, the land and the food chain.

The report reveals that the sludge produced from the Coke plant at Plachimada village is supplied to local farmers who use it as fertiliser contains 'dangerous levels of the known carcinogen cadmium.'

BBC, which got the sludge samples from the Plachimada plant investigated at the University of Exeter in Britain, said that the fertiliser supplied by Coca-Cola to the farmers, will have devastating consequences on the local villagers' health.

BBC Radio 4's Face The Facts presenter John Waite who did the study visited the plant in the wake of an ongoing campaign by the locals who allege that the villages near the Coke factory are drying up because of the over-exploitation of water resources.

Early this year, the Pudussery panchayat in Palakkad district where the Plachimada plant is situated, refused to renew the Coca-Cola licence, saying the plant was depleting ground water in the region. But the licence was renewed after a court intervention.

However, farmers -- led by local politicians -- have been carrying out a campaign to shut down the Coke factory. Now the BBC study has spurred the local activists to step up 'the oust-Coke campaign.'

"The BBC report is shocking and an eye-opener. It is not only that the Coke factory has been depleting ground water levels in Palakkad, but the plant has also been supplying dangerous, toxic materials as good fertilisers to farmers," Communist Party of India Marxist leader V S Achuthanandan told rediff.com.

Achuthanandan, who is also the leader of opposition in Kerala assembly, said that Coke has no more justification to produce its soft drinks at the Kerala plant. "We will help the local people to step up their agitation against the Coke factory because it concerns the health and very existence of the people," he said.

According to the BBC study, the toxins found in the fertiliser samples include cadmium and lead. Cadmium is a carcinogen and can accumulate in the kidneys and may lead to kidney failure. Lead is particularly dangerous to children and the results of exposure can be fatal. Even at low levels it can cause mental retardation and severe anemia.

The BBC study has also quoted Britain's leading poisons expert, Professor John Henry, consultant at St Mary's Hospital in London, who asked the authorities to immediately ban the sludge from the Coke factory.

"The results have devastating consequences for those living near the areas where this waste has been dumped and for the thousands who depend on crops produced in these fields," Professor Henry said.

"What most worries me about the levels found is how this might be affecting pregnant women in the area. You would expect to see an increase in miscarriages, stillbirths and premature deliveries," the British expert warned.

But despite the BBC study and warnings from the experts, Coke officials said the sludge from the Plachimada factory is 'harmless' and 'good for crops.'

"We have done our own scientific studies and found that the fertilisers being supplied to the local farmers are harmless," a Coke factory official at Plachimada told rediff.com.

He said that the fertiliser has immensely benefited the local farmers who find it very difficult to buy very expensive branded fertiliser products.

"We have also not come across any reports of health problems and environmental hazards due to the sludge," the official added.

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