A new story in today's New York Times explains how Coca-Cola and Pepsi are fighting against efforts by nationalist government officials and "environmental" groups in India to ban the soft drinks over health threats due to alleged pesticide contamination. However, this controversy, like so many of its kind, is more about politics than public safety.
Pesticides are present in the groundwater throughout India due to overuse by farmers, and as a result, negligible levels end up in the Coke and Pepsi that is produced in India. It also ends up in everything else that the Indians drink, but that hasn't stopped the Center for Science and Environment from crying bloody murder.
The group's leader, Sunita Narain declares, "This is clearly unacceptable as we know that pesticides are tiny toxins and impact our bodies over time." In other words, in a country ravaged by poverty and disease, a consumer health group is focusing all of its energies on protecting consumers from negligible levels of "tiny toxins" that cannot be proven to have any negative impact on human health.
Why, you ask? Because like so many other "environmental" or "consumer" groups, the Center for Science and Environment is using "consumer safety" as a cloak for advancing its hidden political agenda. According to the article:
The controversy highlights the challenges that multinational companies can face in their overseas operations. Despite the huge popularity of the drinks, the two companies are often held up as symbols of Western cultural imperialism.
The report, by the New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment, has been seized on by nationalist groups as well as environmental campaigners who say that the companies and the government have not done enough to reduce high pesticide levels in soft drinks.
The reason for this controversy is not that Pepsi and Coke contain pesticides (which they do not at any level that affects human health) but that they are American companies dominating the Indian soft drink market. Indian nationalists are using phony health concerns as a shield to fight "Coca-Colonization," a popular term for the spread of Western corporate power into non-Western nations.
Despite (or perhaps because of) their apparent hostility to American business, these Indian groups appear to have no problem emulating the tactics of American environmental and consumer groups, such as Center for Science in the Public Interest and Environmental Defense, using junk science as a weapon against corporations "evil" enough to seek to make a profit.
Wyatt Yankus is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org, HealthFactsAndFears.com).
See also: the ACSH report Good Stories, Bad Science: A Guide for Journalists to the Health Claims of "Consumer Activist" Groups by Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D., who has also written about the India soda controversy.