COLANISATION'S DIRTY DOZEN

12 brands of cold drinks put to the test the coolest event of our times. They put to the test the most aggressive, glitzy, gutsy, premium, imaginative, high-quality, expensive and successful attempt to globally grab people’s stomach share. As it turns out, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Diet Pepsi, Mirinda orange, Mirinda lemon, Blue Pepsi, 7-Up, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Limca, Sprite, and Thums Up are ...

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

COLANISATION'S DIRTY DOZEN

imageThe Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) places in the public domain its analysis of the contents of 12 cold drink brands sold in Delhi. Three bottles of each of the 12 brands were purchased from markets across the city and analysed to see if they contained pesticides.

PML tested the cold drink samples for 16 organochlorine pesticides, 12 organophosphorus pesticides and 4 synthetic pyrethroides -- all of these are commonly used in India as insecticides, in agricultural fields as well as at home

The test found: organochlorine pesticides

LINDANE (y-HCH): This deadly insecticide damages the body’s central nervous system as well as immune system and is a confirmed carcinogen. It was found in 100 per cent of cold drink samples. Its concentration ranged from 0.0008 milligram per litre (mg/l) to 0.0042 mg/l in the samples tested. This last amount is 42 times the 0.0001 mg/l EEC limit — a set of standards stipulated by the European Economic Commission to control contamination in water used as ‘food’ — for maximum admissible concentration for an individual pesticide. It was found in Mirinda lemon. On an average, lindane concentration in all brands was 0.0021 mg/l, or 21 times higher than the EEC norm.

In the popular Coca-Cola brand lindane concentration was 0.0035 mg/l — a level of concentration which was 35 times higher than the EEC norms.

DDT AND ITS METABOLITES (DDD & DDE): Also detected in 81 per cent of the samples. Absent in Diet Pepsi, their concentration is as high as 0.0042 mg/l in Mirinda lemon (42 times higher than EEC norms). On average, total DDT and metabolites found in the samples stood at 0.0015 mg/l, 15 times higher than EEC limits. In the popular Pepsi brand it was 16 times higher than EEC norms. In the equally popular Coca-Cola brand, it was 9 times higher than the EEC limit.

It found: organophosphorus pesticides

CHLORPYRIFOS: Especially dangerous for mothers-to-be and babies as it is a suspected neuroteratogen (it causes malformations in foetuses), this pesticide was found in 100 per cent of the samples. Maximum concentration was in Mirinda lemon flavour: 0.0072 mg/l, or 72 times more than the EEC single-pesticide norm. The average amount of chlorpyrifos found in all samples was 0.0042 mg/l, 42 times higher than the EEC norm.

MALATHION: Detected in 97 per cent of the samples, its concentration was highest in a Mirinda lemon sample: 0.0196 mg/l, or 196 times the EEC limit for a single pesticide. Coca- Cola had malathion 137 times higher than EEC norms. Malathion gets activated in the human liver to produce malaoxon, deadly for the nervous system. It is also a confirmed mutagen — it can tinker with the body’s chromosomal set-up.

In brand terms

Two multinationals — Atlanta-headquartered The Coca-Cola Company and New York-based PepsiCo — control the cold drink market in India. Their market share is a fiercely contested secret. They also seem to share a penchant for pesticide residues in their products. Total pesticides in all PepsiCo brands on average was 0.0180 mg/l, 36 times higher than the EEC limit for total pesticides (0.0005 mg/l). Total pesticides in all Coca-Cola brands were 0.0150 mg/l, 30 times more than the same EEC limit.

In conclusion, the pesticides found in soft drinks are odiously similar to bottled water, which the PML had investigated earlier in the year.

Merchanting madira

By the 1990s, the carbonated drinks market in the US and Western Europe was saturated. Companies therefore turned to new ones. So came the fizz to the Middle East, refurbished East Europe and Asia. In 1991, PepsiCo entered the newly liberalised Indian market. 2 years later, Coca-Cola re-appeared (it was thrown out in the wake of the 1977 FERA regulations).

imageSlowly beginning to dominate the Indian market — Coca-Cola bought out Parle Beverages and its brands Thums Up, Limca and Gold Spot; in 1999 it acquired Cadbury Schweppes’ brands Crush, Canada Dry and Sport Cola. Pepsi, on its part, took over Mumbai-based Duke range of soft drinks — they now rule over it. By March 2001, government estimates that 6540 million cold drink bottles were sold annually in the country. In other words, with over a billion Indians, each Indian would be drinking roughly 6 bottles of soft drinks each year (compare: Pakistan, 17 bottles per capita per year; Sri Lanka, 21 bottles; China, 21). In Delhi, the consumption is a whopping 50 bottles per person per year. Companies are now busy wooing rural markets — the innovative 200 ml bottle, costing Rs 5-7, has been hailed as a success. In short, colanisation is here to happen.

But how can quality-conscious multinationals market products unfit for human consumption?

The regulator’s meaningless maze

Will they get away with it?

They wouldn’t have got away in the US. Legally enforceable norms exist there, that regulate the kind of water used to make cold drinks with. (Remember, the main ingredient in a cold drink — or carbonated non-alcoholic beverage, as it is technically called — is water.) In the US, regulations provide that the quality of water used to make cold drinks must be the same as that used to make bottled water. ‘Raw water’ used to make bottled water falls under the regulative umbrella of the US Food and Drug Administration. In their rule-book, water consumed in this form is a ‘food’; therefore water used as an ingredient in beverages — also therefore a food — must meet the same standards as bottled water. In addition the Safe Drinking Water Act, a federal legislation under the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), stipulates drinking water standards to protect public health.

Its primary standards are legally enforceable nationwide. The state of Massachussets, for instance, stipulates that the source water used for bottled water (and carbonated drinks) must meet the federal EPA national primary drinking water standards. They wouldn’t have got away in Europe. The European Economic Council Directive 80/778/ EEC lays down standards for the quality of drinking water intended for human consumption. Such water, it clearly specifies, shall include water used in a food production undertaking for the manufacture or processing of products and substances intended for human consumption, or effecting “the wholesomeness of the foodstuff in its finished form”. (From December 25, 2003, this directive will be repealed and replaced by Directive 98/83/EC, in which the maximum admissible concentration for individual and total pesticide is the same.) But in India, these companies cannot be taken to court. In fact, forget legal procedure; these companies cannot even be politely told to stick to norms. For — and this is precisely where quality-conscious multinationals laugh all the way to the bank — the norms that regulate the manufacture of cold drinks in India are a meaningless maze.

imageThere is Rule 65 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 (PFA). Rule 65 regulates the presence of insecticides and pesticides in food. But “food” is so defined in Rule 65 as to exclude “beverages”. Does this mean the Act has nothing to say about cold drinks? Not at all. Sub-section A.01.01 in Appendix B defines the standards of quality for non-alcoholic beverages, but has nothing to say about pesticide residues. This Act is mandatory, but does not regulate pesticides in soft drinks.

Then, there are the specifications for “sweetened aerated water with no fruit juice or fruit pulp or containing less than 10 per cent of fruit juice or fruit pulp” in Part II (D) of The Fruit Products Order (FPO), 1955. FPO rules are as mandatory as the PFA’s. It regulates the general characteristics of a beverage. On the quality of the basic raw material it merely says: “water used in the manufacture shall be potable and if required by the licensing officer shall be got examined chemically and bacteriologically by any recognised laboratory”. Please note: “water…shall be potable”. But what is “potable”? The Order does not define it; legally, therefore, the order provides no scope to regulate pesticide residues.

imageThese two mandatory sets of rules apart, there exists IS 2346: 1992, a norm of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). It lays down specifications for “carbonated beverages”. In the “foreword” to this document, water is clearly mentioned as an ingredient in carbonated beverages: “The quality of a carbonated beverage depends on the quality of the various ingredients that go into its manufacture — water, acidulants, sweetening agents, emulsifiers and stabilisers, flavour, colour and carbon dioxide being the important ones” [emphasis added].

The document then prescribes the requirements and methods by which the quality of carbonated beverages may be gauged. As part of this process, it lists the various ingredients that can be used to make carbonated beverages. In this list, there is no mention of water! In any case, this BIS standard is voluntary in nature (unlike the certification for bottled water); a company needn’t meet its specifications. BIS has another standard, also voluntary — IS 4251:1967 (reaffirmed 1977) — which prescribes standards for “quality tolerances for water for processed food industry”. It’s a bizarre piece of standard-setting. In its foreword, it says: “In processed food industry, water is used for a number of purposes, such as processing, washing, flushing and general usage and also for boiler feed and cooling”. Isn’t it also used to make cold drinks?

The bottom line is that in India, the cold drinks industry is virtually unregulated. Strangely, it is also exempted from the provisions of industrial licensing under the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951. It gets a one-time license to operate from the ministry of food processing industries, which includes a non-objection certificate from the local government and a water analysis report from a public health laboratory. It also requires a no-objection certificate from the state pollution control board. That’s it. There’s no environmental impact assessment, or siting regulations for the industry. Its use of water — largely unpriced groundwater — is not regulated.

Forget pesticides. Standards for other substances — such as heavy metals like arsenic or lead — also are many times above the guidelines for drinking water issued by the ministry of urban development (see table: Standards to regulate…). For instance, for deadly arsenic, standards differ in different regulations — in soft drinks under the mandatory Food Products Order it is 0.5 ppm; under the BIS ‘voluntary’ standards, the quantity drops to 0.25 ppm; and strangely, drinking water guidelines specify a safe level of only 0.01 ppm. Therefore, soft drinks have been allowed 50 times higher arsenic content than in drinking water. Allowed lead levels for soft drinks are 50 times higher than bottled water. Cadmium is not even legislated. Why? Don’t ask. Working within the meaningless maze of such regulations, common sense dictates that a company would love to set up shop in India.

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