After a Center for Science and Environment study found 24 times the acceptable level of pesticides in soda sold in India, a few state governments acted quickly to ban the big name soft drinks — Coca-Cola and PepsiCo — but the country’s top business groups warned Thursday that the move could hurt India’s economy.
Both the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry say that decisions to ban Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products from schools, colleges and hospitals run by the government are likely to hurt the country’s broader economy, slowing the investment climate. Representatives reported being particularly disturbed by the total ban on the soft drink brands by the Southern state of Kerala, where both companies run plants.
“Government actions have to be driven by rule of law and in the overall public interest,” said R. Seshasayee, president of Confederation of Indian Industry, who noted that the standards used by CSE were part of a government “proposal” that has not yet passed into Indian law. “We are concerned that the apparently arbitrary decisions have been taken … without going through the due process of law.”
Both Seshasayee and FICCI President Saroj K. Poddar assert that the states should have followed up the CSE study with their own tests, and then sent notice to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, in keeping with proper procedures.
“It is amazing to observe the legal and regulatory contortions these pro-business Indian politicians will go through to keep selling pesticide-laden products to their own people,” remarked Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate and critic of the marketing practices of soft drink companies. “And claiming that the banning of soft drinks containing unsafe chemicals would be harmful to India’s economy is preposterous. Why do they not consider the potential of harm to India’s people and their health?”
While India-based Coca-Cola and PepsiCo officials have declined to comment to the media on the issue, Kari Bjorhus, a U.S.-based spokesperson for Coca-Cola, said they were “disappointed that the (Kerala) government would make a decision like that based on inaccurate information.”
“Our products are perfectly safe, and there is no reason to take them away from consumers,” she said.
India has brought similar charges against both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo before; three years ago, a CSE study caused allegations of excessive pesticides to be leveled at the companies, and their sales suffered. A few months later, the sales figures recovered.
“For three years we have looked very hard at this and engaged the best scientific minds in the world,” said Dick Detwiler, a spokesman for PepsiCo’s international division in New York. “All of the data and all of the science point to the fact our products in India are absolutely safe, just as they are elsewhere in the world.”
This is a small comfort for Indian parents, many of whom think the ban is a great idea.
“It is a good decision,” said Molly Kurian, a housewife in Kerala’s capital, Cochin. “My children have been addicts of Pepsi and Coke. Now I can teach them how to drink water.”
“In my opinion,” added Adams, “even without the presence of pesticides, these beverage products are harmful enough on their own to ban their sale in schools and government institutions. The link between sugary beverages and diabetes or obesity is well established in the scientific literature.”
“I am impressed that India is doing what the U.S. government refuses to do: protect its own people from harmful products marketed by unethical corporations,” Adams said.