Fizz cola: It’s safer than milk

A Joint Parliamentary Committee has started inquiring into the affair of pesticides in soft drinks. The controversy has been analysed from several angles. Here is a new one.

Even the best products need good marketing to succeed. CSE has a good product (concern for the environment). Pepsi believes it has a good product too.

Both need to market themselves to gain fame and fortune. Now, Pepsi and Coke are supposed to be among the best marketers in the world. Yet, in this case CSE has beaten them hands down. Consider the facts.

CSE tested 12 drinks and claimed these had 11 to 70 times the pesticide residues permitted under European Union norms.

Nonsense, said the MNCs, our drinks are certified safe by world-class independent labs, and their pesticide levels are well within safety limits of the World Health Organisation.

Tests in government labs showed modest pesticides levels within legal Indian limits. Outlook magazine had samples tested by an independent lab in England, which pronounced them safe.

Both the MNCs and CSE claim they are vindicated. This must puzzle readers. The accompanying table should clarify matters.

Let’s accept CSE data, regardless of what others say, and compare these with EU norms for various edible items in Europe.

You will find that Pepsi has 37 times as much pesticide as the EU norm for water. How dreadful!

But compare Pepsi with other edible products and a totally different picture emerges. Even going by CSE data, Pepsi is 191 times safer than milk and cream. It is 242 times safer than eggs. It is 538 times safer than bovine meat. And it is a whopping 4,118 times safer than apples.

Now, Europeans have high health standards. They are surely careful about milk, which babies drink. If Indian Pepsi is 191 times safer than European milk, it cannot be dangerous.

They say in England, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. If Pepsi is 4,118 times safer than an apple, can it be a health hazard?

Now, government labs found the pesticide level in Pepsi to be just 0.00025, or 75 times less than the CSE estimates. CSE claims the two samples are non-comparable. Surely this is irrelevant.

According to government lab tests, Pepsi is 14,325 times safer than European milk. Going by CSE data, it is 191 times safer. Either way, it is surely safe.

There remains a puzzle. Why are EU norms for milk and apples so much higher than for water? One explanation is that EU politicians have, as a lofty political aim, declared that water should be totally free of pesticides, and so adopted an idealistic norm that they have yet to fulfil.

But for agriculture, Europeans come down from lofty idealistic heights to practical matters like keeping farming profitable. Hence the milder norms.

Some say that humans consume more water than milk or apples, and so water should be purer. Fair enough. But the same logic surely applies to Coke/Pepsi, which are consumed much less than water, and much less than even milk by young children.

Finally, there appears to a clear protectionist bias in EU norms. Beet sugar, made in Europe, is allowed a total pesticide content four times higher than cane sugar (which is exported by India). Which casts doubt on whether we should follow European norms at all.

What’s the bottom line? CSE could have compared Pepsi and Coke with European milk, and declared them to be safer. This analysis would have provoked no newspaper headlines or uproar in Parliament. So, instead, CSE compared Pepsi/Coke with European water, and so got blazing headlines and fame.

It was a brilliant marketing strategy. The facts presented were not concocted. They were just packaged to ensure maximum impact. Misleading? Well, maybe, but no more so than MNC advertisements claiming that ‘‘things go better with Coke’’.

Pepsi and Coke spent much energy contesting CSE’s data. Instead Pepsi should have embarked on a massive advertising campaign saying that, according to CSE, Pepsi was 191 times safer than European milk and 4,118 times safer than European apples. That would have converted an apparent criticism into a glorious advertisement.

The lesson is clear. Coke and Pepsi should sack their marketing managers and hire replacements from CSE.

What do you think?