CSE rebuts health minister's statement

Junk science of the ministry is dangerous, says CSE

• CSE rebuts health minister’s statement, reiterates that colas are not safe.
• The government has no proof that the drinks are safe. It has results for only two bottles. Even these results have not been made public.
• Moreover, the health minister has not contradicted our report. What he is saying is of a piece with what the government has been doing for the past three years: putting a public health issue on hold.
• What CSE wants is immediate notification of BIS’s standards for carbonated beverages, already finalised

New Delhi August 23, 2006: The science used by the health ministry experts to give cola companies a clean chit is complete junk, says the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), in a detailed, point-by-point response to the government’s report. The health minister told Parliament that a grand total of ‘2’ bottles were tested by the government, which he has used to give the cola companies a certificate of safety. The report of this test is not public. Another 28 bottles have been allegedly tested in Gujarat, for which no details are available. “This is dangerous, as it amounts to misleading us about the health impacts of these drinks. These very drinks, we had found, exceeded pesticide residue limits up to 50 times,” says CSE. The minister had to necessarily discredit the CSE report to clear the cola companies. What CSE would like to know is: One, what was the sampling procedure involved in collecting the 2 bottles for testing? Two, what was the methodology used by the laboratory for testing and how did it differ from CSE’s? Three, did the laboratory confirm the results using a GC-MS, as CSE did? Without public disclosures, it is clear that the health ministry’s report is not credible. Predictably, the cola companies have seized this occasion to claim their products are safe.

The government has tested two bottles, and they have not revealed their methodology. CSE, on the other hand, tested 57 bottles, collected from 12 states, representing 30 per cent of the bottling plants. The bottles were tested using a methodology which, three years ago, was examined and endorsed by the Joint Parliamentary Committee. Moreover, the presence of pesticide residues was additionally confirmed with GC-MS: all its spectra confirm pesticide residues. “The intention of the health ministry to debunk CSE’s study and so clear the cola companies is obvious and disgraceful,” says CSE. In other words, the government has no proof that the drinks are safe. Indeed, health minister Anbumani Ramadoss told Parliament: “I have stated in my answer that we are not contradicting the CSE report.” He added: “It is not that the report is right or wrong. Currently it is inconclusive and we need more details.” This is obviously evasion and obfuscation, as our detailed rebuttal below will also show.

Government nit-picks, needlessly
CSE’s point-by-point rebuttal makes it clear that the report of the experts is vague, misleading and even factually incorrect. The report has been written with just one purpose – insinuating and picking holes in the CSE report to discredit it. More shocking, the internal committee of the health ministry quotes verbatim from reports of Coca-Colasponsored laboratory for its “critique”. “The CSE laboratory uses scientifically and statistically valid testing methodologies and we are prepared to face, yet again, any new investigation the government chooses to set up. Even in 2003, the attack was against us and our laboratory. We were vindicated then. We will be vindicated again,” says CSE.