PepsiCo Inc, the world's second-biggest soft-drink maker, will follow standards India plans to set, norms that may end the recurring debate over pesticide residues in its beverages and those of bigger rival Coca-Cola Co.
"We will abide by and fully comply with whatever standards the government sets," Indra Nooyi, the India-born chief executive officer of Purchase, New York-based PepsiCo, said in a speech at a seminar in New Delhi yesterday. "We and the Coca-Cola Co are working on a breakthrough technology that will detect very low levels of pesticide residues in soft drinks."
The controversy resurfaced this summer after an Indian pressure group said its tests showed 57 samples of 11 brands of sodas made by the two companies had pesticides residues. The government maintained the findings didn't conclusively prove drinks made by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo contain pollutants.
The companies also succeeded in overturning a sales ban on their sodas in the southern state of Kerala, a Communist-ruled province that was among the local administrations imposing varying curbs after the pressure group made public its findings.
While the authorities in other states imposed partial bans, the administration of Kerala, a tropical vacation destination along the Arabian Sea, was the only government to fully ban brands from both companies.
Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and PepsiCo disputed the testing methods and results, and said their drinks meet the EU standard of less than 1 part per billion for any individual pesticide. Coca-Cola depends on India for about 1.3 percent of its volume.
"I personally stand by each and every product we sell," Nooyi said yesterday. "Recently, three highly reputed laboratories declared our products are safe. Residues are not detectable."
PepsiCo has reduced water use in India by 50 percent and is focusing on low-fat products aimed at curbing obesity trends, Nooyi said.
The political debate surrounding the sporadic bans stoked concerns Indian laws may fail to protect overseas businesses, consequently hurting investment flows.