A pesticide residue found in the entire range of soft drinks has once again put focus on the Cola giants – Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. However, while government labs in Kerala and Rajasthan are giving the Cola companies a clean bill of health because no pesticides were found, soft drinks are hazardous even without pesticides. These hazards are intrinsic to the production processes of Coke or Pepsi.
Firstly, the Cola companies mine water for their bottling plants, robbing the poor of their very fundamental right to drinking water.
Secondly, the bottling plants are a source of toxic waste, which threatens the environment and public health.
Finally, the soft drinks themselves are a toxic brew known to be hazardous to health. For more than a year, tribal women in Plachimada in Palaghat district have been sitting in protest against Coca-Cola because the company has drained their aquifers dry. Wells and tanks have dried up with the water table dropping from 10 ft. to 100 ft. As Virender Kumar of Mathrubhumi has written, “People are bringing headloads of potable water from afar, while truck loads of soft drinks are leaving the Coke Plant.”
The plant draws more than 1 million litres a day, forcing women to walk 5-6 kms to bring headloads of potable water. 8.5 truckloads leave the plant daily, loaded with soft drinks. Each litre of coke wastes 9 litres of potable water (Virendra Kumar, Open letter to Chief Minister 10.8.03)
Agriculture yields have dropped to 1/10th in this rich Kerala ecosystem that nature has endowed with abundant water, but Coke has mined and robbed.
To add insult to injury, Coke distributed the toxic waste from its plant as free fertiliser to the villagers. Tests done on the waste showed that it contains extremely high levels of Cadmium and lead, which leads to cancer, kidney and liver disorders.
The local panchayat has withdrawn the license, but the Kerala government is protecting Coke, and in fact giving it Rs. 2 million as aid as part of its industrial policy. Such subsidies have been provided by every government where a Coke or Pepsi Plant exists. For local communities, every bottling plant is a source of the double hazard of creating water scarcity and dumping toxic waste.
Rural India is clearly a victim of the environmental and health costs of the soft drinks industry. But middle class urban India is also a victim because what Coke puts into the bottle is as toxic as what it leaves behind. The only difference is that village women of Plachimada are aware of the threat posed to their health and survival, but affluent urban India is totally unaware of the harm soft drinks are causing them. The Rs. 6,247 crore spent annually by Indian consumers on soft drinks is spent on buying health hazards, not “fun” as the ads say.
Soft drinks have zero nutrition value compared to our indigenous drinks such as nimbu pani, lassi, panna, sattu. The soft drink giants have, through their aggressive advertising, succeeded in making the youth of India ashamed of our indigenous food culture in spite of its nutrition and safety. They have monopolized the market for thirst, buying up indigenous companies like Parle, and displacing indigenous cold drinks make at home or in the cottage industry. But what Coke and Pepsi sell is a toxic brew of colouring agents and chemicals with anti-nutritive values.
The nutrient-composition of soft drinks, per 12 ounce serving in comparison to orange juice and low fat milk.
Contents Coca Cola Pepsi OJ Low-fat milk % Calories 154 160 168 153 Sugar, g 40 40 40 18 Vit. A, IU 0 0 291 750 Vit C, mg 0 0 146 3 Folic acid, mg 0 0 164 18 Calcium, mg 0 0 33 450 Potassium, mg 0 0 711 352 Magnesium, mg 0 0 36 51 Phosphate, mg 54 55 60 353
Ref: Marion Nestle, Food Politics
The sugar in soft drinks is not natural sugar (sucrose), but high fructose corn syrup. Plants for making corn syrup have started to be set up in India, and if strict regulations are not put in place, the Indian diet could go the way of the US diet, with high fructose corn syrup causing insulin resistance. Unlike sucrose, fructose does not go through some of the critical intermediary breakdown steps, but is shunted toward the liver, where it mimics insulin’s ability to cause the liver to release fatty acids into the bloodstream. Studies have found that fructose diets have 31% more triglycerides than sucrose diets. Fructose also lowers the rate of fatty acid oxidation, P.A. Mayes, a University of London scientist has concluded that,
Long-term absorption of fructose causes enzyme adaptations that increase lipogenesis fat formation and VLDL (bad cholesterol) formation leading to triglyceridemea (too many triglycerides in the blood) decreased glucose tolerance, and hyper insulinemia (too much insulin in the blood).
Scientists at the University of California in Berkeley have also confirmed that overuse of fructose was skewing the American diet towards metabolic changes encouraging fat storage.
India cannot afford these high health costs of a fructose diet, which also has other nutritional costs as side effects. When corn is used for high fructose syrup, the poor are denied a food staple. Already 30% corn is going for raw material for making industrial cattle feed and fructose, and is diverted from human food. In addition, the displacement of healthier sweeteners derived from sugar cane such as gur and khandsari robs farmers of incomes and livelihoods. The impact of the Colas on the food chain and economy is thus very large and does not stop with the bottle.
But what is within the bottle in any case is not fit for a healthy diet. Consumption of soft drinks is well known to contribute to tooth decay. Adolescents who consume soft drinks display a risk of bone fractures 3 to 4 fold higher than those who do not. Soft drinks are becoming the greatest source of caffeine in children’s diets, with each 12 ounce can of cola containing about 45 milligrams of caffeine.
And there are other ingredients in the toxic brew, an anti-freeze compound – ethylene glycol for lower freezing, phosphoric acid to give it a bite. People are consuming 4 kg of chemicals a year per person on the basis of 20.6 million tonnes of chemicals in the form of artificial colours, flavourings etc. (Prashant Bhushan “Soft drinks – A toxic – brew”). It is therefore not just pesticides we should be concerned about, but the toxic brew our children are being made addicted to by the Cola giants. And while the corporations push toxics in the form of soft drinks they have manipulated the government’s Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) to deny Indian investors voting rights.
When Coca-Cola reentered India after being thrown out by George Fernandes in 1977, it could only have 51% voting rights under a clause that says, “Under any circumstances the voting rights of HCCHC (Coca Cola’s Holding Company) shall not exceed 51% in HCCBL i.e., the Indian shareholders should get at least 49 per cent voting rights at all times.” This clause was deleted recently giving Coca-Cola imperial powers, to destroy the health of Indians and rob Indians of their democratic rights
Even in political terms, Coke is a toxic brew.