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India Fizzes With Cola Controversy

An Indian environmental group claims colas manufactured in India by the Coca-Cola Corporation and Pepsico contain unhealthy amounts of some pesticides.

On Friday, authorities in the Indian state of Gujarat began collecting bottles of cola for testing, reports the Times of India.

Coke and Pepsi deny the charges, which do not pertain to their products in the United States or Europe.

The advocacy group that made the charge, called the Center for Science and Environment, says it does not want the colas banned, says the Times. Instead, the group said it highlighted the supposed problem to try to get India's health regulations streamlined and strengthened.

The Center tested 12 brands of soft drinks — Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Diet Pepsi, Blue Pepsi, 7-Up, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite and several local brands — for the presence of 28 pesticides and four other chemicals.

It found that all brands contained at least 0.0008 miligrams per liter of the pesticide Lindane, at least eight times the healthy limit as defined by European health regulators. It found DDT in most samples, including Coke, but not Diet Pepsi.

Overall, the Center said, Pepsi brands had an average of 36 times the European limit for all pesticides. Coke had 30 times the limit.

"In conclusion, the pesticides found in soft drinks are odiously similar to bottled water, which the (Center) had investigated earlier in the year," the Center's report said.

The Center said the problem was India's regulatory system. While in the United States soft drinks must be pure, the group said, in India there is a huge legal loophole: One law says food must be pure but indicates beverages aren't food, while another says beverages must be pure but does not mention pesticides.

The cola companies, though, question the science behind the Center's findings and have demanded the group submit its results to outside scrutiny. Coke says the water used at its plant at Kerala, in southern India, is safe.

"This plant, like all of our plants in India, has complied and continues to comply with all Federal and State laws and regulations," a company statement said.

"The plant also meets internationally-recognized standards…Our plant and environmental processes have repeatedly been given a clean bill of health from local authorities," it continued. "This includes independent studies from environment-related government agencies."

Coke said it took the allegations seriously. So did Pepsi, which filed in High Court in Delhi to block the publication of the Center's report.

In the fiercely partisan arena of Indian politics, the issue over cold drinks has already generated a lot of heat — involving the two leading political parties, rather than Coke and Pepsi.

The Times of India reports the Bharatiya Janata Party has accused its rival Congress party in one Indian state of giving improper tax breaks to Coca Cola and Pepsi.

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