Government Intervention answer to Pepsi, Coke’s Double Standards

Coke and Pepsi: Double Standards?

‘Recent developments in the State of California in the US generated a baseless misperception’, echoes the March 13 Indian Beverage Association (IBA) Statement on the Pepsi, Coke scuttle.

The IBA, for one, strongly feels the use of caramel color, with the current levels of 4-MEI, doesn’t suggest an unfavorable health risk; or at least, not for the Indian consumer.

“The Indian Beverage Association (IBA) would like to point out that there are no adverse health implications for humans from the use of caramel color”, IBA declared in its statement following the Centre for Science in Public Interest (CSPI) commissioned study in the US on colas and their caramel color.

The levels of 4-MEI traced in these drinks in the US are five times the permissible limit of 29 mgs given by California’s Proposition 65.

While the CSPI findings and the subsequent ruling by California has sent the cola giants scurrying for a nip in their caramel producing process in California and the rest of the US, they seem to be basking in the glory of good old days back here in India.

The India units of Coke and Pepsi are under the umbrella of IBA, which is touting caramel as safe, it being the oldest natural food coloring substance. But IBA is missing the point that it is not the natural caramel color but caramel made by ‘ammonia-sulphite’ process (also termed as 150d) which is used as an ingredient in the questioned beverages.

Using the word ‘caramel’ is likely to be interpreted as an ingredient similar to what you might get by gently melting sugar in a saucepan. But colorings made with the ammonia or ammonia-sulphite process contain carcinogens and should not belong in the food supply.

The government may not be too keen on implementing the same standards in India, but environmental support groups feel otherwise.

Looking at the way a change is being fostered in the US, there is a strong implication that India should have stringent labelling laws on the additives present and the coloring should be removed from the ingredients list. It is the responsibility of these two companies to standardize their decision for global consumers.

Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General, Centre for Science and Environment  (CSE). said there is a need for intervention. “We want these companies to come clean on this issue and implement the same standards in India. However, their silence on this issue so far indicates that they don’t plan to change the manufacturing process in India voluntarily. In such a case, FSSAI must intervene and enforce the standards.”

Ashim Sanyal, COO and Secretary, Consumer Voice, lends the issue a similar tone. “If it is bad for the US, it’s bad for India too. It is as simple as that. We have already written to the FSSAI.”

Even when the FDA downplayed the cancer risk, these companies have gone ahead with the decision to change their recipe in the US. A slight tug at the hands of the Indian officials could spell boon for the consumers. But surprisingly, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is mum over the issue despite repeated efforts to sought their response.

If a product has shown signs of high levels of toxicity elsewhere, it is imperative for the government to ensure that such a product is not flouting the regulations in India. If it does, it should be recalled to protect the consumers.

The beverage stock sold in India has not been tested post the CSPI study for the amount of trace levels of 4-MEI to confirm the safety of these drinks. So far, there is inconclusiveness on the levels of 150d being used in the Indian cola market and whether they are in sync with the prescribed limit under the FSSAI.

Yet, neglecting the recently concluded study which declared phenomenally high levels of 4-MEI occurring in beverages of Coke and Pepsi sold across the US, their Indian counterpart feel that “the level of 4-MEI in caramel is regulated nationally by Food Safety Standards Authority of India, which is at par with that prescribed by leading public health organizations like FAO/WHO, Codex Alimentarius and the European Food Safety Authority.”

Neither of the two, Coke India or Pepsi India, has substantiated their claim of safety of their drinks. The Indian government is silently brewing itself a warm cup of coffee while it subjects the rest of the nation to little drops of ‘poison’.

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