RAJESH MAHAPATRA, ASSOCIATED PRESS, AUGUST 9, 2006
A southern Indian state on Wednesday banned the sale and production of Coke, Pepsi, Sprite and other soft drinks made by the Indian subsidiaries of Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc., an official said.
Four Indian states have already banned the sale of Coke, Pepsi and other soft drinks at schools, colleges and government offices after a research group in New Delhi last week claimed they contained high levels of pesticide residue. But the state of Kerala was the first to impose a total ban on production and sales.
The moves likely will hurt sales of Coca Cola and PepsiCo beverages in India. The two companies account for nearly 80 percent of India’s $2 billion-plus soft drinks market.
Kerala’s health secretary, Viswas Mehta, told The Associated Press the state banned the drinks because of concerns over pesticide contamination and said his department began collecting its own samples of Coke and Pepsi for independent testing.
Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi insist their drinks are safe.
“For three years we have looked very hard at this and engaged the best scientific minds in the world, and 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,” said Dick Detwiler, a spokesman for PepsiCo’s international division in Purchase, N.Y.
Kari Bjorhus, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola, said the company has not received a copy of the order, but is “disappointed that the 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.
The Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi said it found pesticide residues in samples of Coke and Pepsi that were 24 times above the limits set by the Bureau of Indian Standards.
The center said it carried out tests on 57 samples taken from 11 soft drink brands made by Coca-Cola India and PepsiCo India and found a “cocktail of three to five different pesticides,” all apparently present in water used to make the drinks.
The toxins could, if consumed over a long period, cause cancer, damage to the nervous system, birth defects and disruption of the immune system, the center said.
India’s Supreme Court has since asked the two companies to disclose the contents of their soft drinks. Four Indian states _ Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh _ have already imposed a ban on sale of Coke and Pepsi at colleges, schools and government offices. Several other states have said they are examining the issue.
On Tuesday, PepsiCo placed advertisements with several Indian newspapers saying the company follows Indian government’s regulations and the “pesticide residues present in soft drinks are minuscule.”
Insisting that food items across the world are bound to contain residues of pesticides used by farmers, the company said what is important is whether the residues conform to norms set by the World Health Organization and other national authorities.
“Our beverages in India are suitable for anyone, anywhere,” the statement said. “We drink them. We share them with our families and friends. And we know they are safe for you.”
This is not the first time Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in India have faced charges of pesticide content in their soft drinks.
The allegations surfaced three years ago, when the Center for Science and Environment said its tests revealed PepsiCo and Coca-Cola drinks sold in India contained pesticides that were respectively 36 and 30 times higher than European Union safety standards.
At the time, the companies acknowledged that their sales had gone down for several months, until the controversy slowly faded from public memory.