Aug 6, 2003



12 brands of cold drinks put to the test the coolest event of our times. They put to the test the most aggressive, glitzy, gutsy, premium, imaginative, high-quality, expensive and successful attempt to globally grab people’s stomach share. As it turns out, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Diet Pepsi, Mirinda orange, Mirinda lemon, Blue Pepsi, 7-Up, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Limca, Sprite, and Thums Up are indeed colanisation's dirty dozen


The Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) places in the public domain its analysis of the contents of 12 cold drink brands sold in Delhi. Three bottles of each of the 12 brands were purchased from markets across the city and analysed to see if they contained pesticides.

PML tested the cold drink samples for 16 organochlorine pesticides, 12 organophosphorus pesticides and 4 synthetic pyrethroides — all of these are commonly used in India as insecticides, in agricultural fields as well as at home

The test found: organochlorine pesticides
g-HCH): This deadly insecticide damages the body’s central nervous system as well as immune system and is a confirmed carcinogen.

It was found in 100 per cent of cold drink samples. Its concentration ranged from 0.0008 milligram per litre (mg/l) to 0.0042 mg/l in the samples tested. This last amount is 42 times the 0.0001 mg/l EEC limit — a set of standards stipulated by the European Economic Commission to control contamination in water used as ‘food’ — for maximum admissible concentration for an individual pesticide. It was found in Mirinda lemon. On an average, lindane concentration in all brands was 0.0021 mg/l, or 21 times higher than the EEC norm.

In the popular Coca-Cola brand lindane concentration was 0.0035 mg/l — a level of concentration which was 35 times higher than the EEC norms.

DDT AND ITS METABOLITES (DDD & DDE): Also detected in 81 per cent of the samples. Absent in Diet Pepsi, their concentration is as high as 0.0042 mg/l in Mirinda lemon (42 times higher than EEC norms). On average, total DDT and metabolites found in the samples stood at 0.0015 mg/l, 15 times higher than EEC limits. In the popular Pepsi brand it was 16 times higher than EEC norms. In the equally popular Coca-Cola brand, it was 9 times higher than the EEC limit.

It found: organophosphorus pesticides
CHLOROPYRIFOS: Especially dangerous for mothers-to-be and babies as it is a suspected neuroteratogen (it causes malformations in foetuses), this pesticide was found in 100 per cent of the samples. Maximum concentration was in Mirinda lemon flavour: 0.0072 mg/l , or 72 times more than the EEC single-pesticide norm. The average amount of chlorpyrifos found in all samples was 0.0042 mg/l , 42 times higher than the EEC norm.

MALATHION: Detected in 97 per cent of the samples, its concentration was highest in a Mirinda lemon sample: 0.0196 mg/l , or 196 times the EEC limit for a single pesticide. Coca-Cola had malathion 137 times higher than EEC norms. Malathion gets activated in the human liver to produce malaoxon, deadly for the nervous system. It is also a confirmed mutagen — it can tinker with the body’s chromosomal set-up.

In brand terms
Two multinationals — Atlanta-headquartered The Coca-Cola Company and New York-based PepsiCo — control the cold drink market in India. Their market share is a fiercely contested secret. They also seem to share a penchant for pesticide residues in their products. Total pesticides in all PepsiCo brands on average was 0.0180 mg/l, 36 times higher than the EEC limit for total pesticides (0.0005 mg/l). Total pesticides in all Coca-Cola brands were 0.0150 mg/l, 30 times more than the same EEC limit.

In conclusion, the pesticides found in soft drinks are odiously similar to bottled water, which the PML had investigated earlier in the year.

Merchanting madira
By the 1990s, the carbonated drinks market in the US and Western Europe was saturated. Companies therefore turned to new ones. So came the fizz to the Middle East, refurbished East Europe and Asia. In 1991, PepsiCo entered the newly liberalised Indian market. 2 years later, Coca-Cola re-appeared (it was thrown out in the wake of the 1977 FERA regulations). Slowly beginning to dominate the Indian market — Coca-Cola bought out Parle Beverages and its brands Thums Up, Limca and Gold Spot; in 1999 it acquired Cadbury Schweppes’ brands Crush, Canada Dry and Sport Cola. Pepsi, on its part, took over Mumbai-based Duke range of soft drinks — they now rule over it. By March 2001, government estimates that 6540 million cold drink bottles were sold annually in the country. In other words, with over a billion Indians, each Indian would be drinking roughly 6 bottles of soft drinks each year (compare: Pakistan, 17 bottles per capita per year; Sri Lanka, 21 bottles; China, 21). In Delhi, the consumption is a whopping 50 bottles per person per year. Companies are now busy wooing rural markets — the innovative 200 ml bottle, costing Rs 5-7, has been hailed as a success. In short, colanisation is here to happen.