India: Pepsi and Coca-Cola Deny Pesticide Claims

Publisher Name: 
Financial Times

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, the US soft drinks companies, yesterday angrily
denied allegations that their products manufactured in India contained
toxins far above the norms permitted in the developed world.

India's Centre for Science and Environment, a non-governmental
organisation, announced yesterday it had conducted tests that showed
Pepsi's soft drink products had 36 times the level of pesticide residues
permitted under European Union regulations and Coca-Cola's had 30 times
the level.

The CSE said it found toxins in all 12 of the soft drinks it tested
including lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos - pesticides that can
contribute over the long term to cancer and breakdown of the immune
system. The centre said it had tested the same products in the US and
found no such residues.

"These companies take advantage of the fact that India has no
regulations governing the quality of water that goes into soft drinks,"
said Sunita Narain, a director of the CSE. "They say they have global
standards. But this proves that is not the case."

At a joint press conference yesterday, the heads of Pepsi and
Coca-Cola's India businesses - both wholly owned by their US parents -
suggested the allegations were politically motivated.

They also said they used the same quality control standards to test their
products in India and the rest of the world. Pepsi and Coca-Cola dominate
the Indian soft drinks market, which is growing at between 12 and 14 per
cent a year.

"There is a desire to create panic and a deliberate scare," said Sanjiv
Gupta, president of Coca-Cola in India. "We challenge the methodology of
these tests and ask for a peer review of the top five scientists in
India. There can be no question of double-standards."

Yesterday's report comes six months after the CSE published research
alleging that India's leading bottled water brands, including those owned
by Pepsi and Coca-Cola, contained much higher levels of toxins than
permitted in the EU. Both companies denied the allegations.

It also follows allegations last month by the BBC that a Coca-Cola plant
in India was emitting sludge that contained high levels of toxins harming
local farmers in the state of Kerala. Coca-Cola denied the allegations.
"You have to ask why these allegations keep cropping up," said Mr Gupta.

The CSE yesterday said it would welcome an independent review of its
research and said its own tests had been conducted according to the
established protocol of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

India has a reputation for being one of the most difficult markets to
penetrate for global consumer brands. "I don't know whether these
allegations are true or not, but there is a particularly receptive
audience for such claims in India," said one foreign executive in New
Delhi yesterday.

In 1984, more than 10,000 Indians died in a gas leak from a Union Carbide
factory in the town of Bhopal, in the world's worst industrial accident.
Union Carbide, since wound up, was manufacturing a highly toxic
agricultural pesticide.

AMP Section Name:Food and Agriculture