The M in IMA

Published: Saturday 31 May 2008

recently, the Indian Medical Association (ima) earned the dubious distinction of being the first association of medical professionals in the world to endorse a food brand. And that too of a company best known for its brands of non-nutritive and unsafe carbonated beverages. Going by the law of the land, this endorsement is illegal. The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 clearly makes it illegal to label foods as wothy of being recommended by the medical profession. Even the Medical Councils code of ethics prohibit such a recommendation. But more than this, it is the issue of ethics which makes this deal shady.

What does PepsiCo seek from this deal? The company declined to comment when contacted. It is clear that the company wants to improve its image, quite battered over the last few years. And what better way to do it than by getting the countrys largest body of doctors to market its products? Yes, it is true that only fruit juices have been endorsed. But by extension PepsiCo has found favour. Which brings us to the next issue: what exactly is fruit juice? Or more specifically, what exactly is a Tropicana fruit juice?

PepsiCo markets various kinds of beverages under the Tropicana brand. These include fruit drinks, fruit beverages and fruit juices. Fruits juices may be 100 per cent fruit but the first two are definitely not. Fruit drinks and beverages contain a large amount of sugar, chemicals and preservatives. Worse, the packaging of juices and beverages is exactly the same and there is no way the consumer can tell the difference at a glance. So what is ima endorsing? Only the juice, or the other not-so-healthy Tropicana products, too? And what is the basis of endorsing the juice?

The association was honest enough to admit that it did not carry out any independent tests. They relied only on data submitted by the company, which had a commercial interest in finalising this deal. ima has reportedly made huge money and also the promise of sponsorships for its events and meetings. And PepsiCo seems to have pulled off a coup of sorts by approaching the association first: ima office bearers made it clear they would not endorse similar products from competing brands because of the nature of the contract with PepsiCo. This makes it evident ima has not endorsed fruit juice per se but the brand PepsiCo. imas message is clear: only the Tropicana brand of juice is healthy, others are not. Isnt this called doctoring truth?

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