Sun, Aug 13, 2006 - Page 11 News List

Coca-Cola denies Indian claims of pesticide residue

BATTLING CLAIMS The cola giant refuted a New Delhi science center's claim of pesticide residue in 11 soda brands, which has led to a ban on its product in Kerala

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In this picture taken in August 2004, an Indian employee of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Ltd stacks a pile of empty bottles and their crates at the plant in the village of Nemam, some 40km southwest of Chennai.

PHOTO: AFP

Coca-Cola Co said laboratory tests conducted by an independent research firm detected no traces of pesticides in the soft drinks it sells in India, where some states have curbed the sale of sodas made by it and PepsiCo Inc.

The tests, conducted by London-based Central Science Laboratory, found less than 0.1 part per billion of any pesticide in 26 samples of Coca-Cola, Thums Up, Sprite, Fanta and Limca soft drinks, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola said on Friday in a statement. That meets the EU standard of less than one part per billion for any individual pesticide.

Kerala, a province in India's south, imposed a complete ban on the sale of Coca-Cola Co and PepsiCo drinks this week, while Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka states disallowed sales in government offices and near schools.

Curbs on sodas made by the world's two biggest soft-drink makers followed the findings of a local pressure group. The New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment said last week it found residues of pesticides in 57 samples of 11 brands of drinks made by the two companies. The organization in 2003 had brought similar charges against the soft-drink makers.

"There is no issue with the quality and purity of our products," said Rick Frazier, vice president of technical stewardship for Coca-Cola.

The company said 441 different quality control tests are routinely performed at Coca-Cola plants.

John Faucher, an analyst with J.P. Morgan Securities Inc in New York, said on Friday in a research note that the latest CSE study was "more a headline than a business concern" for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

Coca-Cola gets about 1.3 percent of its total sales in India, Bjorhus said. Indians consume an average of eight servings of soda per year, compared with an average of 837 for Americans, according to data by industry journal Beverage Digest.

It may be "inevitable" that the bans and the Indian study will hurt sales at Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, Faucher said.

An Indian parliamentary panel, which was set up in 2003 after lawmakers sought a ban on the drinks, upheld the Indian study's first report.

The 15-member panel said in February 2004 that it wants new health standards set for beverages, including fruit juices.

Federal Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss told the Indian parliament on Aug. 8 that the study's findings are being examined.

Shares of Coca-Cola fell US$0.14 to close at US$43.76 on New York Stock Exchange. Shares of PepsiCo rose 13 cents to US$63.33.

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