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Colas bring out the white flag

By Suveen K Sinha in New Delhi
August 22, 2006 04:45 IST

Three years after the Centre for Science and Environment first blew the whistle over pesticide residues in soft drinks, the two cola giants -- Coca Cola and Pepsi -- and the Delhi-based non-government organisation appear to be moving towards co-operation and common ground.

Coca Cola and CSE representatives could soon be having a meeting. Pepsi, on its part, has not written to the CSE, but is open to discussions.

"We are open to talking to them. However, the government has to decide the standards," said Rajiv Bakshi, head of the company's India operations.

The development assumes significance as till now the two cola companies had tried to hit back at the NGO, mainly by questioning its findings, and waving in its face test results from foreign laboratories that went against its claims.

The first direct initiative came from Coca Cola India, which wrote a letter to the CSE on August 16, rejecting its finding that the soft drinks contained dangerous amounts of pesticides, but seeking a meeting with the NGO to discuss the issue raised by it.

Said Coca Cola India's Chief Executive Atul Singh: "We appreciate what the CSE is doing, though, with due respect, we reject its findings."

In response to Coca Cola's letter, the CSE wrote back on Friday, saying that it was willing to meet the company's representatives, but that the agenda for the meeting should be the setting of regulations for carbonated beverages, and how the company would ensure that the process moved forward.

"The agenda for the meeting should be how the standards agreed upon by the committee of the Bureau of Indian Standards can be notified. They are stopping the government from notifying the standards. We have to jointly urge the government to notify the standards," CSE Director Sunita Narain told Business Standard.

Both Pepsi and Coca Cola said they would welcome scientifically validated tests and standards, as their product quality matched the European Union's norms for packaged water, the world's most stringent beverage standards.

In fact, both the companies said they had been at the receiving end of the controversy mainly because no such standards existed for finished soft drinks, which deprived them of an opportunity to come clean on the issue.

"All our ingredients are properly tested. What goes into the beverage is absolutely safe and pure. The problem can be solved if there are standards for finished products," said Singh.

"Set a test standard. Till you develop a validated international standard, check my water, sugar, etc, and declare me as safe. Don't let me off the hook even today," said Bakshi.
Suveen K Sinha in New Delhi
Source: source