Is Coke, Pepsi From Goa Safe?
In light of the recent legislature passed in the State of Kerala allowing villagers of Plachimada to claim compensation from Coca Cola and the Centre of Science and Environment reports still indicate lack of reduction in the pesticides contents in Pepsi and Coca Cola products bottled in different areas in India; GoaChronicle.com decided to investigate into the issue as Goa too has bottling plants of the two cola giants Pepsi and Coca Cola and what we have learnt is shocking…
In a trail-blazing legislative initiative, the Kerala Assembly recently passed the Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill 2011 to secure for the inhabitants of Plachimada in Palakkad district compensation for the ecological damage caused by the Coca Cola unit that used to function in the village.
The Bill, the latest outcome of a protracted people’s struggle which saw the Coca Cola unit being closed down in 2005 and an almost two-year-long exercise to quantify the damage provides for the constitution of a three-member tribunal to be chaired by a person in the rank of a district judge and having an administrative member and an expert member. The tribunal would have all the powers under the Code of Civil Procedure and two-year tenure.
Goa-side of the story
The first concerns of Coca Cola in Goa emerged when the Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) issued a notice to the multinational for operating its new factory without securing the official consent in 1999. The company functioned for more than 40 days without the prescribed effluent treatment systems.
Then in 2003, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in Goa had directed its inspectors to check the factory premises of the two soft drink companies, bottling their beverages in Goa in the wake of the Centre for Science and Environment findings. While it was learnt that Coca Cola at the Verna Industrial Estate draws its water from the tanks of the Goa-Industrial Development Corporation; but the inspectors could not ascertain whether the Pepsi bottling plant at Arlem used the public water system. The on-going issue saw a considerable drop in Cola sales over some months. After that all has been silent.
In 2006, the Food and Drug Authorities in Goa have filed a case against PepsiCo as “foreign particles” and insects have allegedly been found in the cold drinks manufactured by the cola giant.
However here is an interesting fact that nobody yet has uncovered the Coca Cola here in Goa, GoaChronicle.com has its hand on a 2010 state government report ‘Report of the Committee Constituted to Study Water Resources Management in the Verna Industrial Area’. While the 2003 FDA report mentioned above states that Coca Cola gets its water from GIDC tanks, this particular report states that ‘It was observed that Hindustan Coca Cola was continuously pumping water from some of the GIDC bore wells for 24 hours and storing it in a sump. Although Hindustan Coca Cola had GIDC/PWD piper water connection; the water supply is intermittent and therefore inadequate.”
While the above excerpts of the report indicate that Coca Cola is using water from the bore wells for production; it is even more shocking to know that the same report states, “It was also observed that in the absence of garbage and waste management there was a strong possibility of contamination of the ground water and also blockage of the natural water channels, adversely affecting the community ground water resource.
What is more disturbing is that the report claims that since no bore wells were registered in the stipulated period allotted by the government, all the bore wells in the Verna industrial area are illegal. And as FDA had already identified that Pepsico bottling plant in Goa uses bore well water, no study has yet been conducted by the government on the contamination of the ground water supply in Arlem where the bottling plant is located.
CSE India Findings
In a recent report released on 31st January 2011 by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the following startling facts were highlighted;
Adopting dual standards is a practice large multinational corporations follow especially when it comes to developing countries. Soft drinks industry is a classic case of this as the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) discovered way back in 2003. A laboratory report prepared by CSE detailed some astonishing facts about the extent of pesticide contamination in soft drinks sold in India.
CSE found high levels of toxic pesticides and insecticides, high enough to cause cancer, damage to the nervous and reproductive systems, birth defects and severe disruption of the immune system. Market leaders Coca-Cola and Pepsi had almost similar concentrations of pesticide residues. At the same time CSE also tested two soft drink brands sold in the US, to see if they contained pesticides. They didn’t. This only goes to show the companies were following dual standards.
These startling facts forced the government constitute a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), only the fourth in post independent India and the first on health and safety of Indians. The committee was tasked to find out whether the findings of the CSE regarding pesticide residues in soft drinks are correct or not and to suggest criteria for evolving suitable safety standards for soft drinks, fruit juices and other beverages where water is the main constituent. The JPC report vindicated CSEs findings and said it is prudent to seek complete freedom from pesticide residues in sweetened aerated water.
The report further states , CSE undertook yet another nationwide study in August 2006 of nearly a dozen soft drink brands and found little had changed. The study found pesticide residues in all samples. Thereafter JPC had asked for standards for carbonated beverages.
Yet nothing happened as it took the health ministry a good three more years to notify standards for pesticides in carbonated water. Even these standards are meaningless as there is no methodology available to test for pesticides.
Here is what a report on India Resource Centre (a media watch dog) tracking the Cola pesticide issues have to say;
In two communities, Plachimada and Mehdiganj, Coca-Cola was distributing its solid waste to farmers in the area as ‘fertilizer’. Tests conducted by the BBC found cadmium and lead in the waste, effectively making the waste, toxic waste. Coca-Cola stopped the practice of distributing its toxic waste only when ordered to do so by the state government.
Tests conducted by variety of agencies, including the government of India, confirmed that Coca-Cola products contained high levels of pesticides, and as a result, the Parliament of India has banned the sale of Coca-Cola in its cafeteria. However, Coca-Cola not only continues to sell drinks laced with poisons in India (that could never be sold in the US and EU), it is also introducing new products in the Indian market. And as if selling drinks with DDT and other pesticides to Indians was not enough, one of Coca-Cola’s latest bottling facilities to open in India, in Ballia, is located in an area with a severe contamination of arsenic in its groundwater.
When the Joint Committee on Pesticide Residues in and Safety Standards for Soft Drinks, Fruit Juice and Other Beverages was laid on the table of the Lok Sabha 4th February 2004 and Rajya Sabha on the same day, it is interesting to note the following comments:
“The Committee noted that more than half of the total plants of Coca Cola India and Pepsico India Holding Private Limited are franchisee owned plants. Out of the 52 plants of Coca Cola India, 25 are franchisee owned plants. Pepsico India has 21 Franchisee owned plants out of a total of 38 plants in India. They also note that all bottlers of Coca Cola Company whether franchisee or company owned have signed Standard International Bottlers Agreement (SIBA) which is uniform across the world and the quality control system for the company owned and franchisee owned plants is the same. However, Pepsico India has not even signed the agreement and has stated that Franchisee bottlers are liable for their business and the company has no responsibility in respect thereof. Thus even though franchisees bottlers are required to adhere to quality control specification and other standards of parent company, they have no legal liability over their action and inaction”.
Nothing much has been undertaken by the Central government post the JPC report, even the Goa government has allowed moss to gather around the issue. But here is the worrying fact, knowing that both Pepsi and Coca Cola are using ground water; there is strong possibility of the water being contaminated as identified in Verna Industrial Estate. The question is whether the government will conduct its study on the pesticide contents in the Pepsi and Coco Cola produced in Goa.