Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cola wars

We seem to have hit the peak of the age of hysteria in the ensuing Cola controversy. I refer to the condition in hysteria of reacting excessively without thinking. Tho' it's my personal belief that the motives are also fuelled by the xenophobic envy at the supposed riches and lifestyle associated with PepsiCola MNCs and the Indian habit of finding anything consumed for pure pleasure as evil.
I know this may seem a long way off but I find the sentiments echoed in the increasingly common outcries against "vulgarity". The indecent assaults on our maryaadaa protested by gundas burning tyres and holding the public at ransom.

Why I say the whole protest sham is unreasonable is this -
High is not an absolute term. It's relative. Hence, when the media sensationalizes the high levels of pesticides in the cola, the first question taht should have been asked is - How high is high? But I see nobody asking this very common-sensical question. I guess this is beacuse nobdy is interested in the right answers. The only issue at hand is tahta MNC is brought to the knes and let's kick the living air out of it.
Reactonism, Frustration, Inferiority complex - each one seems to have his own ulterior motive.

The article below by the very respected Gurcharan Das in TOI should put things in perspective (for those who are interested in the controversy on its scientific merit) -

Truly, we are a wondrous land! In a country where two thirds of the children are undernourished, where 70% of the people cannot access safe sanitation and 65 infants die out of a thousand born, we are seriously debating the pesticide levels in a product that is probably the safest in the world from a pesticide perspective.

Sadly, the controversy has created a scare in a nation which has among the lowest pesticide residues in its food chain. Indian diets contain roughly 18% of acceptable daily intake levels of pesticide versus western diets which have 40-50%, according to international experts.

The reason is that our diets are extensively vegetarian; and meat inherently has higher pesticide levels via the grains ingested by animals in the food chain. If we are seriously concerned with pesticides in Indian diets, we ought to begin with tea.

According to European norms (EU), tea contains 187,300 times the pesticide than water used in colas. If hypothetically our colas had exceeded allowable levels by 30 times, I could still drink 6,200 glasses of cola and I would have less pesticide in my body than a cup of tea.

The same goes for other foods. EU norms allow apples to have 154,120 times the pesticide than water; bananas to have 95,220 times; milk 7,140 times. So, soft drinks are among the safest products we consume from the pesticide perspective.

This doesn't mean that our other foods are not safe. Nor is our food chain polluted — an unfortunate impression created by the media. It means that we do not live in an ideal world free of pests and pesticides.

I am generally a critic of our government, but in this case I give it credit. It has fixed water standards which are equal to the highest norms in the world.

Since water in soft drinks conforms to these norms, it is probably safer to drink a Pepsi in Kerala than in Kentucky. The government is also now working on sugar norms and testing a protocol for finished soft drinks.

In the end, governments understand that multinational companies have to maintain high standards because they have too much to lose. News travels quickly and a disaster in one country can harm a company's image and sales around the world.

Hence, the Indian government wants to do its own tests. The last time around government data showed six times lower pesticide levels than CSE's tests. Our state politicians have fallen into a trap.

They think that by banning colas they have won cheap votes. People, however, will soon realise that they have been taken for a ride. Already, the people of Kerala are questioning, how can you ban colas and allow the sale of liquor and cigarettes?

Eventually, everyone has lost in this silly business. Our nation has been unfairly smeared for high pesticide in our food chain. Our exports of food products will lose the trust of international customers.

Tourists will say, "If I can't drink a safe cola, how can I eat anything in India?" Foreign investors will be reluctant to invest in a country which does not observe the rule of law in closing factories.

All NGOs have got a bad name by these smear tactics. The environmental movement has been hurt. This is sad because we need a strong civil society to take on the real problems of India. Finally, media has been tarnished by its lack of application. We have truly scored a self-goal!

1 comment:

DD said...

Well i am really not the right person to comment, so this is more of an extention...
In India all the major decisions are taken on the basis of popularity and m sure this too was done keeping an eye on the votes n trin to create a facade that the govt. is really concerned..
On a different topic, take the censorship rules they r equally absurd, take the ban on smoking(the writer is a smoker), if the govt is really concerned bout the health of the country, y r they allowing its sale?? so one hand the cigarette cos are allowed to produce, they pax taxes, ppl buy the product n then the govt. decides to put a ban on tv n movies ?? will it really make a difference ??