New Delhi: Two months after India’s health ministry said there were pesticide residues in carbonated drinks made by firms, such as PepsiCo Holdings India Pvt. Ltd and Coca-Cola India, the food processing ministry plans to commission a study to ascertain the existing levels of pesticide residues in such drinks and set standards for them.
“In spite of the fact that the health ministry is responsible for carbonated drinks, the food processing ministry has decided to commission a new study which will come out with mandatory standards for colas” said an official in the food processing ministry close to the development.
It wasn’t immediately clear how binding the study would be on the companies since it’s the health ministry that’s responsible for laying the standards related to pesticide residue in carbonated drinks, though the food processing ministry official said any study commissioned by a government department would have to be considered seriously.
Government officials who did not wish to be identified said the food processing ministry’s report would help the government because it would have another point of reference in addition to the report on the subject it is currently examining—that of the N.K. Ganguly Committee set up by the health ministry.
The official at the food processing ministry said the study being commissioned “would fix the total amount of pesticides permissible in carbonated drinks. The health ministry’s report had recommended limits for an individual pesticide in carbonated drinks, but did not fix the maximum level of pesticide residue.”
The food processing ministry is likely to commission the study in 10 days to the Delhi-based Shriram Institute for Industrial Research (SRI), a non-profit contract research institute. “We had submitted a proposal to the ministry to undertake the study,” said SRI director R.K. Khandal. “The study has not yet been commissioned. It is likely that we will do this study in collaboration with an other institute.”
SRI proposes to study around 1,600 samples across the country to determine the existing levels of pesticide residue. “We will also do a toxicological study to see how much pesticide content will make the drinks toxic,” said Khandal.
He added that the institute would also develop a validated testing standard for testing pesticide levels in aerated drinks. Currently there are no standards to test carbonated drinks for pesticides.
The pesticides-in-carbonated-beverages controversy first erupted in 2003 following a study by Delhi-based non governmental organization, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Last year, CSE repeated the study and said colas contained dangerous levels of toxins. The most recent study led to a fall in sales and some state governments banning the sale of the drinks in schools and colleges. Kerala issued a ban on the production and sale of such drinks.
The two firms had to run a slew of advertisements to show the drinks were safe and they also fought the attempt to test their products in India by claiming that only a testing standard recognized by the European Union or the US could be used to test their products. Last year, however, the firms announced they would co-operate with the government in developing a testing standard.
The health ministry is still working on developing a testing standard for colas. “We will continue to support and work with the government and all relevant stakeholders to expeditiously develop and finalize science-based standards and the associated protocols to test soft drinks for pesticide residues,” Coca-cola said in an emailed response.
PepsiCo declined comment.
The two firms have been working with the US-based analytical standards organization, AOAC International, to develop a test protocol for detection of pesticide residue levels in colas.
In March, the Ganguly committee had recommended a “maximum residue level of one-part per billion (ppb) for an individual pesticide for carbonated water.”
CSE is however sceptical of the new study being commissioned. “The government is going after committee after committee,” said CSE associate director Chandra Bhushan. “It has been four years since we came out with our report in 2003. Nothing has happened since then,” he said.