Published: Thursday 31 August 2006

Pesticides in soft drinks

This is in response to the cover story on soft drinks ('The street fight', Down To Earth, August 15, 2006). The article exposed the blitheness with which Coke, Pepsi and other soft drink manufacturers continue to churn out products laced with pesticides and other toxins. Little wonder that farmers in Andhra Pradesh have taken to spraying their crops with colas (as reported in an earlier issue of your magazine), saying it's cheaper and more effective than commercially available pesticides.

In this context, one wonders why on earth we allow soft drink companies and mineral water manufacturers to draw water from our few remaining clean natural water resources -- be they springs in Himachal Pradesh or aquifers in Kerala. After all, these companies never fail to trumpet the fact that they have the best water purification technology in the world. That being the case, why do they need 100 per cent pure water to start with? Indeed, perhaps the time has come for a law that requires such companies to use only wastewater as raw material. That way, they can serve the public good...and literally clean up their act.

R P Subramanian
Mayur Vihar Phase I

The power of this industry is manifest when they successfully stall the mandatory notifications despite a jpc recommendation. I do not know whether you and your team were also subjected to pressures from them.

Thanks to your and similar efforts, I often notice children preferring fruit juices over colas even without parental guidance. Even if the government does not act, public awareness and consequent spurning of soft drinks will force the industry to mend its ways and set its own standards, the way it often does in the developed world.

Potential consumers are taken in by celebrity presence in the commercials for cold drinks. It may be a good idea to appeal to the celebrities who advertise for this industry.

Vinod K Tiwari

Well-planned and executed study. You are up against cola-mafias. But your work cannot be dismissed lightly even by these powerful interests.

Like the now established link between tobacco and cancers and radiation and cancers, I think the rising trend of lymphoma-leukaemia (blood cancers) indicates a link with pesticides which should be investigated. Some pesticides, as stated in your study, are known carcinogens. Drinks are one source of pesticide load, farm pesticides in edibles, another.

S G Kabra
SDM Hospital

It is most unfortunate that the government is playing into the hands of soft drink manufacturers by its lax attitude towards a comprehensive safety norm for soft drinks. In our country, where there is no guarantee of even pure drinking water to every citizen, we are stuck with a system where beverage makers get away by sticking to "applicable rules" which criminally neglect public health. If we need decades to formulate standards for safe beverages, why can't our government just borrow such norms from the eu and the us, adapting them to Indian conditions?

Ron Duarah

Through a Swiss newspaper I discovered your study on soft drinks. I carefully read your web page and was very surprised to di.

Food for thought

Your article on the Food Safety and Standards Bill ('What will you eat?', Down To Earth, June 30, 2006) is an eye opener. The bill seems to be definitely framed by the big players in the industry for their own benefit.

The attempt to make profit from the sale of packaged food containing contaminants like heavy metals and pesticides itself is an unjustifiable practice. It would indeed be hilarious if all the contaminants like heavy metals and pesticides are termed as 'extraneous matter' and there are regulatory standards set for the same.

It is high time we say a big 'No' to packaged items and consume more of fresh vegetables and fruits. People have to be made aware of the consequences of ingesting these packaged food laced with contaminants.


The averment about the Food Safety Act called the Integrated Food Law 2006 is a clear ploy of the food industry, especially the beverages segment, to create unchecked avenues for profiteering.

That the Food Safety and Standards Bill 2006 had to be reintroduced for the third time in May 2006 and passed with a voice vote in the monsoon session in July 2006 shows the strident advocacy work done by the industry to protect their bottom line interests. The consumers' gullet has surely come under the control of the industry.

J George

Cottoning up to Bt

This is in response to the piece on cotton ('Heavy cotton', Down To Earth, August 15, 2006). The Bt cotton success in India is a big gain for farmers. Besides increasing yield and lowering cost of pesticide, the technology has added advantage in terms of less health hazards. But even after its acceptance by farmers, the debate on its benefits continues. I do not understand the economic logic that shows farmers incurring a net loss by cultivating Bt cotton.

An issue that farmers should be made aware of is that proper management is crucial to bring maximum benefit from the technology. Good extension services from the state department of agriculture and combined efforts of technology providers and the seed industry to educate farmers will go a long way to plug the deficiencies highlighted during the debate.

Faujdar Singh

I am a farmer who grows cotton. The main benefit of growing Bt cotton has been reduction in use of pesticides. Earlier a farmer would spray pesticides in his fields between 12 to 20 times in one crop cycle. This has been reduced to 2 to 4 times. This reduction has led to increased insects and small creatures are slowly returning to the farmlands. For example, earlier peacocks and other birds had more or less disappeared from villages in Punjab and Haryana because there were no insects left for them to feed on due to high use of pesticides.

I do endorse Bt cotton, because the profitability of the farmer has increased, exposure to pesticide has come down significantly and the natural flora and fauna are re-emerging. But I do not endorse Bt cotton monopolised by foreign companies and sold at exorbitant prices. Even though I have never met N P Mehta, I think the government should listen to him and allow the use of Navbharat-151 and other such varieties.

Sadly, like any debate nowadays, this too involves vested interests: i)foreign funded organisations propagating Bt ii) ngos and foundations looking for grants and donations, blasting Bt iii)Commissions and research centres funded by the government justifying their existence but confusing everyone.

I suggest that the government force the multinationals to sell technology and seeds at much reduced rates. We should not worry about these multinationals running away. India is a huge market and multinationals cannot do without it. Just the way China forced censorship on the Internet and all major Internet search engines compiled for their share of the profits, so shall these corporations. It is time to use the sheer size of our population to our advantage.

Ajay Jakhar

How many doctors?

This is in response to your cover story, 'Doctor,doctor' (Down To Earth, July 15, 2006).

The article says India has 5.9 doctors, 0.8 nurses and 0.47 midwives for 1,000 people, which adds up to 1.86 health workers for 1,000 people. I think you meant 0.59 doctors (instead of 5.9).

Sabarish Sasidharan


The figure for doctors should have been 0.59 as you point out. We apologise for the error.

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Pick of the postbag

Reaching for the moon
This is in response to your interesting and informative cover story,'Destination moon' (Down To Earth, July 31, 2006).Despite the prevailing economic backwardness and poverty in many parts of the country, space is a success story for India. It showcases our competence to match the developed and developing nations, including China. It is a source of inspiration to our young to dream and emulate.

The critics of the Chandrayaan project point out that the exploration of the moon can wait and we should concentrate on enhancing our capabilities in space technology in areas directly beneficial to national development, especially alleviation of poverty and unemployment. However, technology and its development cannot wait till poverty is completely vanquished. India cannot afford to be left behind in the race to reach out to new frontiers of the globe and space and it has to assert its legitimate rights. India has been spending on Antarctica expeditions and setting up research stations there, for the same reason: to claim our right to the natural resources in the icy continent when the time comes.

India's interest in the moon is part of a well thought out plan in the context of new developments in space technology and global politics. During the last three decades, the us has been concentrating on missions to explore Mars and other planets and beyond and also in setting up a space station. Now it is taking up moon missions with a fresh vigour. What has also prompted India to turn to the moon is the increasing interest of China in the natural satellite. China has been devoting huge resources and is aiming to send a manned mission to the moon within three years. Its aim is to establish a permanent presence on the moon and exploit the lunar resources, especially the hydrogen isotopes that are useful in nuclear fusion.

The Chinese moon capability will have a profound impact on the global balance of power. It may pose a challenge to the us supremacy in space. The us has developed new propulsion systems such as nuclear plasma engines which would enable its spacecraft to travel to Mars and beyond much faster. The moon is going to be the future launching pad for other planets. All these possibilities have prompted India, too, to hitch on to the lunar mission bandwagon.

K V Ravindran

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