August 9, 2006

More Indian States Ban Colas Over Pesticide Row

BANGALORE, India -- Two southern Indian states banned the sale of soft drinks produced by Coca-Cola and Pepsi on Wednesday after an environmental group said it had found pesticides in the global giants' products.

While the coastal state of Kerala announced a blanket ban on the production and distribution of the two soft drinks, its neighbour Karnataka banned them from schools, colleges and hospitals, officials said.

Three states previously imposed bans similar to the one in Karnataka after the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said it had found an average pesticide residue of 11.85 parts per billion in 57 samples of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo drinks produced in 12 Indian states.

Those pesticide levels are 24 times higher than limits agreed, but not yet enforced, by the Bureau of Indian Standards.

"There are lots of reports which prove that these drinks have certain ingredients that are harmful to the human body," Kerala's chief minister, V.S. Achuthanandan, told reporters after a cabinet meeting approved the ban.

Last week, the Indian units of the two beverage companies said their drinks were safe and they held consumer safety paramount.

The two companies have also published prominent newspaper advertisements to say pesticide levels in their products are below permissible levels and way below levels detected in other food products such as tea, eggs, grains, fruits and dairy products.

In Karnataka, home to India's technology hub of Bangalore, officials said that under the ban, due to come into force on August 14., drinks could not be sold in schools, colleges, hospitals and anywhere in a 100 feet (30 metres) radius around them.

"It has a bad effect on children's health. That is why we have banned soft drinks in schools," said Basavaraj Horatti, Karnataka's primary and secondary education minister.

A similar study by the CSE in 2003 briefly dented sales of the two companies' drinks when it reported levels of pesticide in excess of international standards, highlighting weak food safety laws in the country.

But other experts said moves to ban soft drinks were narrow and masked the big picture. Most Indian foods and beverages had high levels of pesticides as the country was one of the world's largest manufacturers and consumers of such chemicals, they say.

"It is this reality that needs our urgent response," the Indian Express said in an editorial on Tuesday. "Let us therefore address the issue of pesticide proliferation."

(Additional reporting by Madhu Soman and Shailendra Bhatnagar in NEW DELHI)