One of the critical questions that haunts small scale food processors world over is whether the application of food laws are discriminatory in nature, invariably favoring large industries with financial and political clouts. It is a matter of concern that the transnational food and beverage giant Coca Cola Corporation was allowed to get away with just a rap on its knuckles after committing a grave mistake in the form of manufacturing bottled water products contaminated with mold which caused diarrhea and vomiting when consumed. Instead of punishing the manufacturer with severe penalties, the New Zealand food safety agency pushed the incidence under the carpet after administering a mild rebuke. The manufacturer was able to get away by apologizing to those "inconvenienced" by drinking the contaminated water! Here is a take on this episode.
"NZFSA initially agreed on a trade level recall, rather than asking consumers to return the product, because the water was usually drunk soon after it was bought and people would not have drunk much of the water as it tasted horrible. However, it was then decided that the scope of the recall was not enough and it was extended to more water produced at the factory. Between August and February Coca-Cola sold more than 2.5 million Pumped bottles. Following an investigation which concluded last month NZFSA identified a number of deficiencies in Coca-Cola's processes. It said a marketing company, not Coca-Cola, alerted NZFSA to the trade recall and Coca-Cola had not notified its third party auditor it was recalling the product. NZFSA was also unaware Coca-Cola's had changed its third party auditor. MAF said Coca-Cola's recall plan was now being rewritten with its guidance. Coca-Cola realised major improvements had to be made to its recall plan and was pro-active in getting to the source of complaints, MAF said. However, MAF warned that although it was closing the file, if Coca-Cola breached the Food Act again it would consider legal action. In a statement Coca-Cola apologised for taking Pumped off the shelves, especially to those who had bought the contaminated bottles".
It is shocking that a company like Coca Cola can commit a mistake in the simple process of sterilizing water and obviously one cannot attribute this to any genuine problem. The mishap must have happened because of the negligence of the company staff including the QC group and the concerned authorities should have taken a more serious view of this episode. Not only that, the manufacturer should have been taken to the court for awarding financial compensation to the affected consumers as per international norms. One may recall that the same company was hauled up in India a few years ago for contaminating the waters around their bottling plant, for which heavy financial compensation is being sought. No matter how powerful the industry is, liability for damages wrought about by its mistakes on the community must be enforced.