Thursday, November 29, 2012


It is most unfortunate that in India decisions which can be taken by the executive authorities often end up in judicial courts for orders and directives. Latest case to knock on the doors of the Court pertains to the safety of soda. When there are hundreds of food products, some of which are not even edible, are sold in the market with no proper overseeing, time of the Courts and the government is wasted on silly issues like safety of soda made by the industry as per the standards laid down by the concerned authorities. The observation of the court that consumer must be educated regarding the undesirability of consuming synthetic drinks touches the very core of the problem. Assuming that such education process is a long drawn affair, why should any one suspect that all soda products are dangerous? If so world over these products would have been banned by now. Here is a take on this issue as reported recently. 

"Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra called for the records of the FSSAI's technical committee after counsel Prashant Bhushan said the authority's Sep 12 order was given by its committee on advertisement and labelling, not by the scientific panel on food additives. As Bhushan focused on the health hazards of carbonated beverages, Justice Radhakrishnan observed that the "best course is to educate people not to consume beverages." "All cricketers are promoting soft drinks on television," he said. Assailing the order which was submitted to the court, Bhushan said the order, issued Sep 12 by FSSAI assistant director Kamal Kumar, was like affixing the authority's stamp on a report by soft drink manufacturers. Bhushan, appearing for petitioner Centre for Public Interest Litigation, told the court that the order said benzene residue in carbonated beverages was formed only under certain conditions when agents like benzoates and ascorbic acid were present together with heat, ultraviolet light and metallic ion mixture."However, in the absence of benzoic acid and ascorbic acid together, benezene residues are not generated (in carbonated beverages)," the order said. It said that according to studies by Indian Council for Medical Research, the consumption pattern of the beverages was only 500 ml per day in a "worst case scenario which do not appear to pose any health hazard." The order said Indian Beverage Association had confirmed to the FSSAI that in India, benzoic and ascorbic acids were not present together in the beverages. Seeking the minutes of the technical committee which had a hearing for eight days, Bhushan asked if the FSSAI had itself done any test to determine the presence of benzoic acid in carbonated beverages. Bhushan told the court that the FSSAI was not accepting the findings of its own lab in Ghaziabad."

One may recall the pending proposal in New York, to limit the size of soda products sold in the market to 16 oz or less, is still mired in controversy while in India the very safety of the product is being questioned. If some body is using non-permitted chemical preservatives in a beverage product there is adequate reddressal mechanism in the statute books and those breaking the law can be hauled up for punishment. Regarding the issue of Benzene the traces of this chemical coming from thousands of Petrol Bunks located all over the country and being inhaled by those residing near these outlets and those using fossil fuel based transport must be more dangerous than a sip of soda! Probably not many are concerned about this danger while industry as a whole is being made a whipping boy! Consumer activists do serve a purpose but there should be some balance in accusing the industry day in and day out for things they cannot be blamed.


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