The two main cola firms?Coke and Pepsi?have launched an offensive, not so much against Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), but against the State Governments slapping a complete or partial ban on sale of their products.
Besides putting their side of the pesticide-in-cola story through ad space, Pepsi and Coke have stepped up their media ?briefings?. Be it the business reporter on their beat, health correspondent, environment writer, columnist or editorial writer, they are all being reahced for, in their attempt to ?correct? public opinion. The public opinion has turned against these two MNCs, which pre-dominantly control the Rs 10,000 crore soft drink market in the country.
No wonder, there is an edit after edit and column after column professing how the Cola controversy has been blown out of proportion when we keep gulping and consuming much more level of toxic pesticides with drinking water and fruits and vegetables and even with the morning cup of tea. On being briefed by the well-geared PR machinery of the MNCs, the argument of these pen-pushers go like this: We are drinking contaminated water anyway; what is the big deal if there is pesticide in Pepsi and Coke drinks?
If Sunita Narain represents a particular brand of NGO, committed to safe and toxic-free food, we have a large number of business class globe-trotting NGOs which are nothing but offshoots of big businesses. Leader of one of such types of NGOs went to the extent of telling us our per capita consumption of cola drinks and how India is far below its peers. This commentator, in his Hindustan Times Guest article was projecting Cola as one of the most important indicators of the national economy; and how it is an index of development. If these brands of ?economists? mas-quarding as NGOs had their way, they would like the Central Statistical Organisation to release monthly figures of Cola consumption, which will then be seen as a significant contributor to the national GDP, if not health.
In fact, let'sbe fair to the industry players. They did react to the first tests done by the CSE in 2003, following which a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was set up. Both Pepsi and Coke realised that the awareness level in India has increased to the extent that it would be difficult for them to do business in the country unless they improved their safety standards. Thus they adopted, this is what they claim, the EU packaged drinking water norms of 0.5 particles per billion to the water they use for their final products. But they argue that the norms for the bottled water cannot be applied to the final product. ?Water is a simple compound; finished products, comprising water, sugar and flavours is a complex compound. It is like apple with organge,? Pepsi Food Chairman for India Rajeev Bakshi said at one of his numerous media briefings.
Fair enough. But what about the standards for the final products? The Technical Committee of the Bureau of Indian Standards, has almost finalised the standards for the final products but the government has stalled the notification. This is because the industry feels that unless there is a scientifically validated procedure for testing the final product, setting standards is meaningless. Ministry of Health has set up yet another committee, which will now try and establish the science based testing protocols so that two different labs do not give two different results for the same product. A word about Sunita Narain, who has proved that how ordinary people can achieve extra-ordinary things. She has courage to pick up the samples of the products of mighty MNCs; test them in her lab and inform the consumers that they are drinking pesticides along with cola.
When Chennai-born Pepsi worldwide boss designate Indra Nooyi is being projected at par with Kalpana Chawla, it is no mean achievement for Sunita Narain who has endeared herself to millions of households who have abandoned their Coke and Pepsi for Nimboo Paani. Indra Nooyi has a tough challenge to meet in her own country.