Court Orders Coke and Pepsi to State Pesticide Levels on Label
Sonu Jain
Indian Express
October 21, 2004

NEW DELHI, OCTOBER 21: The Centre is still debating the standards for aerated drinks but the Rajasthan High Court has stepped in with an unprecedented order. Under this, Pepsico and Coca Cola India have to specify in their labels not just the composition and contents of their beverages but also the presence of pesticides and chemicals, if any. And this, with immediate effect.

The 19-page order was delivered earlier this month by a division bench comprising Chief Justice Anil Dev Singh and K S Rathore on a PIL filed by a Jaipur-based social worker Santosh Mittal.

Both Pepsi and Coke, when contacted by The Indian Express, said they had not received the order yet.

The PIL had asked that manufacturers ought to make a "complete and full disclosure" of composition and content of their products so that consumers can make an informed choice in selection, purchase and consumption.

To that effect, the court invoked Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution (freedom of speech and expression, which includes right to aquire information) and Article 21 which upholds right to life.

The companies in their replies argued that Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) rules do not envisage total exclusion of pesticides from beverages and soft drinks. It is the water they use that contains pesticide. How can they be held responsible? And in what way does the consumer gain by this knowledge, they asked.

"The argument does not appeal to us,'' the HC order said. "In so far as water is concerned, it is a necessity as no one can survive without it. As regards beverages, they are products of trade and commerce. They are sold for a price. One can survive without carbonated beverages and soft drinks, but none can survive without water. Once a person pays for a commercial product, it must be totally safe." The companies also argued that if a disclosure like this is made, there would be panic in the market and that would affect business. "The contention cannot be a ground to give go by to Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution for the sake of business of the manufacturers. Commercial interests are subservient to the fundamental rights. The manufacturers cannot be allowed to keep the contents of the carbonated beverages and soft drinks under a veil of secrecy."

In their application, the companies quoted an expert from an institute in Mysore saying that maladies like cancer manifest only after "hundreds of years of exposure." The judgment ridiculed this claim saying that the expert had also referred to Ayurvedic preparations and even tea and coffee being lethal in the long run if consumed in "large quantities."

Therefore "unless the bottle or the container mentions the composition of the carbonated beverages or soft drinks, including presence of pesticide... it will not be possible for the consumers to assess and form an informed opinion as to whether they should buy and consume the same and to what extent."

The order says that it is not up to the Court to specify the quantity but at least the consumer should be given the "entire information for exercising informed choice" as it is their "fundamental right" to full disclosure.

When contacted, the PepsiCo spokesperson said: "Our products conform and will conform with the highest national and international standards to ensure consumer safety. This includes the recent standards prescribed by the Health Ministry which are in line with the most stringent standards in the world including the EU. We have applied for the recent High Court order and have not received it as yet. On receipt of the order, we will examine the contents and decide on the course of action."

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