Irredeemable

Government committee again delays norms for soft drinks

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

another round of prevarications and delay tactics has hit the process of setting pesticide residue standards for soft drinks and carbonated beverages. Nearly 10 months after the Joint Parliamentary Committee (jpc) endorsed the findings of the Centre for Science and Environment (cse) on pesticide residues in soft drinks (see 'A lie is nailed', Down To Earth, February 29, 2004), the Central Committee for Food Standards (ccfs) met in New Delhi on November 19, 2004, ostensibly to fix these standards. But it instead referred the matter to another expert committee, which has not been constituted fully yet. The ccfs, under the Union ministry of health and family welfare (mohfw), is the country's apex technical body to set food standards.

The ccfs meeting did not even discuss in detail the setting up of the standards. When the agenda came up for consideration, it was immediately decided that the matter be referred to the expert group. Although some members attempted to discuss the dangers of pesticides in soft drinks, the urgency to take a specific, time-bound decision was missing. Earlier, cse had sent a detailed letter to all ccfs members outlining key issues of concern, which it felt should be discussed at the meeting. But the letter went completely unacknowledged.

The development is not surprising in view of ccfs ' track record. In March 2004, the issue of setting final product standards for soft drinks was taken up by the Pesticide Residue Sub-Committee (prsc) of the ccfs. The prsc invited 21 'stakeholders' to present their views on the matter, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and soft drink associations, but excluding the cse (see 'Slow off the mark', , March 15, 2004), which had first exposed the presence of pesticides in soft drinks (see 'Colonisation's dirty dozen', Down To Earth, August 15, 2003). Other non-governmental organisations and consumer groups were also ignored. In June 2004, the prsc delayed the fixing of standards by deciding to undertake a nation-wide monitoring of soft drinks to test for pesticide residues. It recommended the creation of another expert group to work out the modalities of the exercise (see 'Fizzically Unfit', Down To Earth, July 31, 2004). The ccfs was to decide on these recommendations of the prsc at the recent meeting, but it passed the buck to a partially existent expert group.

S R Gupta, deputy director general, Prevention of Food Adulteration, mohfw, says: "We have requested N K Ganguly [director general, Indian Council of Medical Research] to chair the expert group." The ccfs meeting also sidestepped the issue of setting standards for caffeine levels in soft drinks by referring it to a sub-committee. Other recommendations of the jpc were also forwarded to various committees.

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