Sunday, December 17, 2006

Delhi pushes for cola ban in schools and universities


12/16/2006 10:29 PM Financial Times
New Delhi: The Indian government is pushing for a ban on colas and soft drinks in schools and universities across the country in a big setback to Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and other soft drinks groups trying to rebuild their image following a pesticide scare earlier in the year.
"Colas with or without pesticides are harmful for health and should not be consumed. We want all forms of junk food like pizzas, chips, samosas and burgers banned from canteens," India's health minister Ambumani Ramadoss told reporters on the sidelines of a conference on nutrition in New Delhi.
The minister, whose department backed the cola companies during the pesticide scare, said he had written to his counterparts at state level requesting them to make plans for a partial ban on fizzy drinks and junk food, blamed for rising levels of heart disease, obesity and diabetes across the country.
The soft drinks industry had until this week appeared to be making progress in putting the pesticide furore behind it. A court in the southern state of Kerala recently ordered the Communist-controlled government to reverse a ban on the manufacture and sale of Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
Ramadoss said the country faced a "galloping" rise in heart disease, diabetes and cancer as India's 300 million-strong middle class ate more junk food and lived more sedentary lives. At the other end of the spectrum the country had some of the worst infant and maternal mortality rates in the world.
"We have one India which is galloping on the economic front while in the other India, human development indices say we are 126th in the world," Ramadoss said.
He said he planned to introduce health and lifestyle classes in schools. The comments showed how concern about the impact of soft drinks and fast food on public health is spreading to developing countries, having previously been mostly concentrated in North America and western Europe.
In a statement, Coca-Cola said the amount of soft drinks sold in Indian schools and universities was "very low". It added that it offered a range of beverages in the country, and had "taken leadership" in promoting active lifestyles in India, citing its support for the country's Rural Games as an example.
The Indian Soft Drinks Manufacturers' Association said it was unable to comment as its secretary-general was on leave.
Marketing consultants close to Coke say the two emblematic US cola companies have been victims of "populist brand-trashing" at the hands of politicians.
The controversy over "pesticolas" began in 2003 when the Centre for Science and the Environment, a Delhi-based NGO, highlighted dangerous levels of residual pesticides in popular soft drinks brands as a means of drawing attention to high levels of chemicals in groundwater.

No comments: