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Friday, August 11, 2006

The Hullabaloo: Pesticide in Cola

The pesticide monster is again rearing its head in front of Coca Cola and Pepsi. Since last few days I am witnessing hullabaloo about pesticide level being much more than prescribed level. So much so that many state governments banned the aerated drinks in schools, colleges, hospitals, and government canteens. An over zealous state with a communist government inflicted a blanket ban on production, distribution, and consumption of the fuzzy drink. Poor cola guys!

Well, to put it frankly the entire drama seems ludicrous to me. Not because I am some kind of a parasite who hates public health and well being, but because the whole thing smells of rat and appears childish.

First and the foremost, all this bashing and banning game is happening just because an NGO (Center for Science and Environment) did some tests and found the pesticide level higher than prescribed norms. How can I be sure that this NGO is not under the influence of some powerful anti-MNC lobby? Why should I believe that this Center for Science and Environment is a saint amid scoundrels? What about government tests? Has the various state governments conducted scientific tests to determine the pesticide level in the Coke and Pepsi circulating in their states?

Second, is the prescribed norm too little and impractical considering the Indian environmental practices? How many other food items and beverages have we tested for pesticides and what have been the results? I hear from some credible sources that the vegetables we eat have abnormal level of pesticide relative to the norms. Is it correct or just hearsay? Well, I would like the government and scientific institutions to do a pesticide test for the following items:

  1. Sugarcane juice hawked on roadside stalls.
  2. Various brands of bottled water available – both better known brands as well as Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati types found in smaller towns and cities.
  3. Vegetables from various mandis.
  4. Ice-creams – both branded and unbranded.
  5. Drinking water available at various taps on railway station – yes I am talking about sheetal jal.
  6. Tea from various roadside stalls.
  7. Drinking water available in various hotels – both big ones and small ones.
  8. Nimbu paani available on the streets of Delhi and Kolkata.
  9. Paani poori from road side stalls.
If the government heeds to my advice and tests the above mentioned items for pesticides, I am sure 75% of food and beverages will fail the tests as per existing norms and will be banned in India. Then what will we eat and drink? And that raises two important questions – Are we not taking enough care of our environment that pesticide and other such substances are seeping in virtually everything we eat and drink? Or, is our contamination norms too rigid considering Indian scenario?

By the way, I just noticed a wired logic on Center for Science and Environment website. On one of the articles on pesticide in colas, there is a question: Why the ‘apples have more pesticides’ chant of cola companies is dead wrong? The CSE answers this query in the following way:

You can't take the pesticides out of apples. But you can clean up colas….Fruits and vegetables have nutrition. They give us something in this poison-nutrition trade-off. We get nothing with colas. Just pesticides.

Great logic I must say. So if you can’t take out poison from apple then no harm in eating it. And if you have some nutritional intake then it doesn’t matter if you eat poison because poison by some miracle will be neutralized by the nutrients. Amazing! What will CSE say if I tell them that I drink a lot of cola and then eat a lot of nutritious food (rice, wheat, pulses, vegetables, fruits, juices, and milk). Will it not neutralize the impact of miniscule traces of pesticide in my cola?

By the way how are various state governments and central government faring on the goal of providing safe drinking water to all Indians?

There might be one more secret behind this pesticide drama. Is this selective and asymmetric play of pesticide in cola issue a handiwork of communists and Swadesi Bachao Aandolan, who are always on the look out for ways to embarrass, harass, and harm multi national companies? Considering their antecedents, this seems a likely cause. The promptness with which Kerala government acted in banning the production and sale of cola from their state gives credence to this theory. But if this is the case, and Indian government silently keeps watching, then something is really wrong with Indian government and its policies. All the talk of India as an exciting business destination and a land of future opportunities will fall flat if the Indian government remains silent thereby shaking the confidence of the industry and investors.

Government of India owes an answer to India Incorporated. Hope it comes soon.

P.S. – I am not an advocator of drinking aerated drinks. Personally, I feel aerated drinks are harmful for general health, not because they have pesticides level higher than prescribed norms but because they promote obesity, are addictive, have no nutritional ingredients, and may become cause of severe health problems. I discourage people from excessive consumption of aerated drinks. The above post is in support of cola companies because they are being selectively and wrongfully targeted on pesticide issue, and this does not seem to be a good business policy of the government. In case, any cola or beverages company is found to be slack on quality control leading to public health concerns, then it ought to be dealt with severely.

Some related writings on this issue:
1. Cola Con on Indian Economy Blog by Arjun Swarup
2. I want my DDT by Gautam John

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Comments on "The Hullabaloo: Pesticide in Cola"

 

Blogger Manish said ... (11:45 PM) : 

I agree with your contention that even the other items are contaminated, but this does not mean cola companies should be allowed to sell products which are are harmful in more ways than one. It means that one by one all these maladies should be sorted out. If cola companies are the first then so be it.

Having said that, the test from an NGO is not enough. Test should be conducted at various national as well as international labs to get an unbiased result. And if still found guilty, the cola companies should be punished.

Cola copanies have no right to say 'Pehle us aadmi ka sign leke aao jo ganna juice bechta hai, pehle us aadmi ka sign lekar aao stall pe chai bechta hai, phir mere bahi tum jahaan kahoge main sign karoonga'.

 

Blogger Ajit Chouhan said ... (10:47 AM) : 

What do you say about people who drank sea water as an act of miracle the other day at Mumbai beach ???

It's all in your mind dude :-)

 

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