The draft standards created by BIS have set a limit for 16 pesticides in soft drinks. The limit of individual pesticide residues has been fixed at 0.0001 mg/l, and the total pesticide residues are not to exceed 0.0005 mg/l. The pH of the carbonated beverage has been set to be not less than 2.3. The caffeine content has been scaled down from 200 mg/l to 145 mg/l. Manufacturers will have to follow the labeling standards. Anything beyond the latter would have to be labeled as “is not recommended for children, pregnant or lactating women, and individuals sensitive to caffeine”.
However, the Union ministry of health and familywelfare, egged on by industry, had effectively blocked the standards for carbonated beverages. This is evident from a confidential letter written by the then health secretary on March 29, 2006 to the BIS committee, which was finalizing the standards. The letter asked the BIS not to finalize the standards, using the pretext of constituting more committees. This was clearly a prevarication, which suited the companies’ interests.
In April 2007, a committee headed by N K Ganguly, director general, Indian Council of Medical Research, made its recommendations, mooting a final product standard to regulate soft drinks. The Ganguly committee, also known as the National Level Expert Group, was constituted in November 2004 by the health ministry to guide the authorities in fixing the “maximum residue level limits of pesticides in carbonated beverages, fruits and vegetable juices and other finished products” and “on monitoring of pesticides in carbonated beverages”, and “based on the contents of the soft drinks/beverages to advise on their harmful effects”.
The committee's report, filed in the Supreme Court on March 13, 2007, paved the way for the Union ministry of health and family welfare to finalize and notify a mandatory final product standard for pesticide residues in soft drinks.
On August 17, 2008, more than five years after the first CSE study, the ministry notified the draft rules for maximum levels of pesticides in carbonatedwater. Under a proposed amendment to the then Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Rules (now replaced by the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006), the ministry specified 1 ppb (parts per billion) as the maximum permissible limit for lindane, DDT, Malathion and five other pesticides.
It is noteworthy that this limit is 10 times higher than what had been finalized for packaged drinking water in 2003 – 0.1 ppb for residues of individual pesticides and 0.5 ppb for that of total pesticides.
India has mandatory rules under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. The BIS has draft standards, which are more stringent – 0.1 ppb for individual pesticides and 0.5 ppb for total pesticideresidues. The soft drink industry is following the less stringent mandatory norms.
CSE demands that the stringent (and currently voluntary) BIS norms must be made mandatory so that the industry is forced to follow them. Soft drinks, consumed particularly by children, need to be checked and regulated.
CSE also thinks there is no need for any further studies, reviews or committees. The BIS committee had, since 2003, addressed each and every issue raised by the cola companies and, based on sound science, has finalized the standards.