Mumbai: Recently in the US, Coca-Cola fired one of its employees after he was caught drinking a Pepsi. Such is the intense, bitter and bizarre rivalry between the two cola giants that when they join forces to commonly battle an issue one has to sit up and take notice (See: ).
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, which has won its spurs by bringing down pollution levels in Delhi and making mineral water manufacturers clean up their water and act, has now trained its guns at Coke and Pepsi. CSE has now asked these two multinational companies (MNCs) to clean up their act and colas (See: ).
A CSE study has revealed that the pesticides levels in Coke, Pepsi, Mirinda and nine other soft drinks of these MNCs are far in excess than what is claimed by them. While there are no specific standards for soft drinks in India, these MNCs have maintained that their drinks are manufactured by the standards set down by the European Economic Commission (EEC) world-class standards.
According to CSE director Sunita Narain these MNCs operate within the prevalent food laws in India but they exercise double standards, as their products in the US contain no pesticides.
The CSE study has revealed that the level of pesticides in Coke is 30 times more and in the case of Pepsi it is 35 times more than the levels stipulated by the EEC. Four of the pesticides found in India are extremely toxic, which in the long term could cause cancer and damage the nervous and reproductive system, among others hassles.
Scary words, and if it were to be true, these colas, at least by American standards, will qualify for being classified as weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
The two Indian head honchos of these MNCs immediately called a joint press conference in which one of them dismissed the report as "baseless" and the other as "bullshit." Rattled possibly by a drastic fall in sales, they indicated that they might resort to legal action (See: ).
The problem with the colas manufactured in India is that the raw material source is groundwater and everybody knows that the groundwater in India contain pesticides. The charge is that the MNCs are not treating the groundwater adequately to bring down the pesticides levels. According to CSE they do not have the technology here to treat the water.
Indian politicians are the last persons to be left out of such a tamasha. Scores of protests followed, there was pandemonium in the Indian parliament and sales of these colas have been banned in the parliament. While we may not know about our colas, we know our parliamentarians and so we may by pass this as a tragic-comic sideshow.
Getting their act together
Following the dip in the sales of colas, the MNCs have gone to town with full-page advertisements regarding the "safety and the quality" of these WMDs. While the advertisements wax eloquent about these WMDs, nothing or very little is being said about the way the groundwater is being treated.
What is the level of pesticides in the groundwater of Delhi? To what levels are they being brought down? No answer. And sales continue to dip and panic sets in. Pepsi has moved the courts to stop the CSE report being made public (See: ).
It appears that the Indian consumer is not buying what is said in the advertisements. After all, he knows how the US has defended their WMDs in Iraq and so how can s/he be sure in this case? And why are they afraid of the report being made public? India is a democracy and people have a right to know all views. Would this have happened in the US?
These are not the only allegations. There are allegations that they, apart from not just cleaning the groundwater, are stealing and then further contaminating the groundwater.
The farmers of Palakkad district in Kerala may not be scientists or doctorate-holders of CSE vintage, but they know their wells and drinking water well (See: ).
They have alleged that excess groundwater is being drawn leading to shortage of drinking water and after processing the water the waste is being dumped in the ground, thereby contaminating the groundwater further. This has been confirmed by the Kerala Pollution Control Board.
Cola? What's that?
To be fair, Coke is the culprit in this case. But can you distinguish between Tweedledum and Tweedledee? And what does Coke have to say about this, particularly the shortage of drinking water? If there is no water, drink Coke?
And why drink Coke in the first place? What is Coke? Presumably a glass of water with two spoonfuls of sugar to which an ingredient evolved from a top secret, mumbo jumbo formula is added. The nutritive value of this beverage is as top secret as the formula.
While the MNCs can still redeem themselves by getting their stuffs tested by a competent and independent authority, CSE must be given the credit for bringing the matter for debate into the public domain. The diminutive Sunita Narain and her team have done a remarkable job by taking on these giants.
Would the team like to taste a burger or a pizza next?
also see : Coca-Cola
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