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`Soft drink companies must offer non-caffeine option'

Our Bureau

New Delhi , Feb. 5

THE Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) once again drew attention to the issue of caffeine content in soft drinks sold in India. Mountain Dew, PepsiCo's neon-lime aerated beverage, for example, has been found to contain high caffeine levels.

Speaking to newspersons a day after the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) submitted its report, the CSE Director, Ms Sunita Narain, said that while globally caffeine-free variants of soft drinks are available, in India this was not the case.

"Even though there is no law dictating that caffeine-free soft drinks be sold in India, the JPC report clearly points out that soft drinks companies should follow best global practices," Ms Narain said.

"So while PepsiCo is operating within Indian laws, it is violating standards it follows in other parts of the world. This went against its claim of following global standards in the production of bottled water," she said. Calling for separate stringent norms for individual water-based beverages, Ms Narain said that regulation of pesticide should be based on the dietary regime of the region. "There cannot be a trade off between nutrition and poison," she added.

Business as usual?

UNLESS the Government hastens the formulation of laws and regulations on food safety, it may just be business as usual for the cola companies this summer.

Officials in the Health Ministry said even as the JPC has sought early action, the joint committee, comprising officials from the Ministries of Food Processing and Health, would have to rework the existing norms. "Even if the committee formulates its norms quickly, the Government would have to give the soft drink companies at least six months time to comply with the new regulations," said officials. They also added that with elections round the corner, formulation of new norms could also be delayed. This would effectively mean that the cola companies might just remain unregulated till the end of summer, which is the peak season for consumption of soft drinks.

The JPC, in its report, has already pointed out the multiplicity of laws and regulations dealing with food safety standards, which is being monitored by eight different ministries.

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