India's southern state of Karnataka has filed a case against US soft drinks giant Coca-Cola, accusing it of selling products with illegally high pesticide levels, a minister said on Saturday.
The case was filed on Aug. 12 after state-supervised private laboratory tests showed excessive amounts of pesticide in Coca-Cola samples, Karnataka Health Minister R. Ashok said.
"The government will not hesitate to initiate action be it against a multinational company or an Indian firm ... the health of our children is very important," Ashok told reporters in Bangalore, India's high-tech hub.
The case was the first to be filed by a state government against Coke since a New Delhi-based environmental group said earlier this month that tests of products made by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo showed high pesticide levels.
The allegations have turned into a publicity nightmare for the soft-drinks multinationals with six states, including Karnataka, imposing partial or full or bans on their products.
Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which account for nearly 80 percent of India's US$2 billion-a-year soft drinks market, have repeatedly insisted that their drinks are safe. The companies have taken out large newspaper ads in a bid to reassure Indians.
The minister said other brands of soft drinks sold in the state would be tested for the presence of pesticides but did not mention Pepsi by name.
According to the minister, the tests at the "well-equipped lab" found that the Coke products contained levels of a pesticide called malathion beyond permissible limits.
"It was found that Coke contained the chemical melathion to an extent of 0.142 parts per million as against the permitted 0.1," Ashok said.
Exposure to high amounts of malathion can cause difficulties with breathing, chest tightness, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea and other symptoms, doctors say.
The Center for Science and Environment sparked a national uproar and drew international headlines with a study it released early this month alleging high levels of toxic chemicals in 57 drink products taken from 25 different Indian Coca-Cola and PepsiCo plants.