We are heartened by the positive response we received to the inaugural edition of the Environment Health Bulletin (EHB). Many more people have signed up for EHB and we have received great ideas and suggestions on content as well as design. We have incorporated some of the suggestions and we hope that this edition is an improvement over the last one.
In this edition, we have focused on pesticide regulations as well as regulations of “energy drinks”, especially for caffeine. In June, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) released its lab study on caffeine content in energy drinks and found high levels of caffeine, upto 320 ppm, in many brands. The Central Committee on Food Standards (CCFS) had set a standard of 145 ppm for caffeine in carbonated beverages as a safe limit. Most of the energy drinks sold in the market have caffeine more than double this safe limit. These drinks also did not have proper labeling of caffeine or its content on their pack.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) – our custodian for safe and healthy food – had set up an expert committee on energy drinks. And we have learnt, that this committee, based on literature review has recommended fixing caffeine standard in energy drinks at 320 ppm.
We wrote to FSSAI and members of the expert committee putting forth our point that energy drinks should not be allowed to have more than 145 ppm of caffeine. Dr. B Sesikeran, Director, National Institute of Nutrition responded saying that 320 ppm caffeine in energy drinks is safe. His email and our response is posted on our website.
Here we would like to lay bare a few facts. The expert committee while deciding on the standards referred to those studies on health impacts of caffeine that were done on 'healthy adult population'. While the fact is that energy drinks are largely consumed by adolescents. Today these 'energy drinks' are marketed and sold in practically all shops, and younger children are getting attracted to them. We do not know the health impact of high consumption of caffeine on them.
Neither are there any diet study or long term study on health impacts of caffeine in India nor are there enough studies to show the effect of caffeine with other chemicals like guarana and taurine present in the energy drinks. We believe that in a scenario where basic data is not available, we should not allow more than 145 ppm caffeine in energy drinks and without proper labeling.
In May 2011 CSE filed an RTI application to the union ministry of agriculture on the use of banned pesticides in India. It turns out that India is currently using 67 pesticides that have been banned in different countries across the world. All these pesticides have been reviewed by expert committees of the Central Insecticide Board and all of them have been recommended to be continued; only a handful have been permitted for restricted use.
Endosulfan is also on the list of the 67 pesticides. At present we do not have access to the review reports and therefore cannot comment of the quality of reviews. We have filed another RTI asking for some of the review reports. It is important that we know how ‘banned’ pesticides are being reviewed and the basis on which they are recommended for continued use.
The Supreme Court banned the use, manufacture and sale of endosulfan and constituted a joint committee of the agriculture commissioner and the director general of Indian Council of Medical research (ICMR) to prepare a report on the health and environmental impact of endosulfan. We have been following the joint committee very closely and it can easily be said that the joint committee is working in a non-transparent manner and within the committee the agriculture commissioner's office has overshadowed ICMR's work.
It also turns out that while the endosulfan manufacturers were ‘entertained’ by the joint committee, the civil society and victims have been kept at bay. The irony is that the manufacturers have been saying that endosulfan hasn't affected the health of those in Kasaragod or Dakshin Kanada but they have been pleading with the court to allow them to export endosulfan on the count that stocking the pesticide and not disposing it safely 'can pose environmental hazard'. The ban continues as of now. We are looking forward to the report of the expert committee and will keep you posted on every development.
Last month we saw how the health of our people was again shortchanged. While the Indian honey manufacturers are doing everything to comply to the export norms - to assure that Chinese honey wasn't being transshipped to the US via India - set by the honey industry body of US, Indian consumers are still waiting for their honey to be regulated and be made free of antibiotics and heavy metals. We can only hope that FSSAI moves quickly and set standards to regulate toxins in honey.
There are many more stories and reports in the newsletter and much more is available on our website. Please read on and give your advice and comments. As always, we also look forward to research and story ideas from your side.