Soft-drinks: Where does India stand?
India is the world’s fastest growing economy and has been included in the list of top ten economies on the planet. This makes India one of the biggest markets in the world. The Indian soft-drinks industry is huge and is growing day-by-day. Importantly, India is a leading manufacturer and importer of soft-drinks. As per official reports, soft-drinks were consumed at a staggering 11,755 million litres in 2013, which is 170% higher than that in 2008! Furthermore, it has been projected that the sales of soft-drinks will increase by 19% annually till 2018.
Soft-drinks are such a commodity that is consumed avidly by youngsters and adults alike. No matter what time of the year it is, soft-drinks are always in demand. These are consumed largely due to their palatable taste as well as their thirst-quenching potential. Therefore, these are a must for birthday parties, office parties, get-togethers, picnics, or just for pure enjoyment. Some of the leading brands of soft-drinks available in India include the following:
- Coca Cola
- Thums Up
It is therefore essential that soft-drinks should not contain any contaminants. The recent report highlighting the presence of heavy metal contaminants in several reputed brands of soft-drinks is indeed very startling.
Soft-drink contamination: What was in the news?
Recently, the Minister of State for Health, Shri Faggan Singh Kulaste announced in the Rajya Sabha that several leading brands like Mountain Dew, 7 Up, Pepsi, Coca Cola and Sprite have been found to be contaminated with the heavy metals lead, chromium and cadmium. Although the manufacturers deny the presence of these heavy metals beyond those prescribed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the study findings carried out by the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, Kolkata, tell a different story.
Soft-drink contamination: Is this a new problem in India?
The issue of contamination of soft-drinks by harmful chemicals is not new in India. A decade ago, Coca Cola samples were reported to be contaminated with benzene, arising from poor quality of the water used for preparation of the product. Previously, a government study had bound that toxins from PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) bottles could leach-out toxins, especially upon exposure of the bottles to sunlight, thereby contaminating the soft-drink in the container. Even as far back as 2003, Coca Cola and Pepsi, the two soft-drink giants were in hot water for the presence of pesticides in 12 of their brands, which were much higher than the maximum permissible limits. The study was conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi.
The major difference between “then” and “now” is that much more awareness has been created amongst the public, and the Food Business Operators (FBOs) are also better informed about issues pertaining to food standards and food safety.
Heavy metals and their impact on health
Heavy metals, particularly lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury are a major threat to human health. These metals have been extensively studies and their adverse health effects have been known for a long time. Cadmium is nowadays primarily used in rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries, and a major cause of pollution is dumping as opposed to recycling. Cigarette smokers are at increased risk of cadmium poisoning, while for others, cadmium can enter the body through food, which can cause kidney damage. Mercury can also enter the body through food, particularly sea fish, and can cause poisoning, especially in pregnant women and babies. Humans are exposed to lead through air and food in almost equal proportions.
Lead poisoning can result in damage to the nervous system and brain. Therefore, it is essential that the level of these metals in food items should be within the maximum safety limits so that they do not adversely affect the health of individuals, especially young children, who are most susceptible.
What are the safety limits of heavy metals in soft-drinks?
The FSSAI in its Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Regulations, 2011 has specified the maximum permissible limits for heavy metals in soft-drinks. Exceeding these limits can invite litigations. The permissible safety-limits of these heavy metal contaminants are presented in Table 1.
Table 1: Maximum limits for heavy metals in soft-drinks
|Metal contaminant||Parts per million (ppm) by weight|
From the above table, it is evident that the maximum permissible levels of the various metal contaminants are extremely low. This underscores the fact that stringent monitoring systems need to be in place at all stages of manufacture and bottling, so that the limits of the metal contaminants remain below the permissible limits.
Regarding the metal contaminants, the following should be noted:
- Zinc has been removed from the Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Regulations, 2011, in regulation 2.1 relating to “Metal Contaminants” in sub-regulation 2.1.1. 5
- The FSSAI has not specified any maximum limits for Chromium and Nickel regarding soft-drinks, and therefore have been omitted from Table 1.
- Tin can be present in canned beverages, and the maximum limits have been indicated in a notification issued by the FSSAI, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, dated May 3, 2016.
What should you do now?
Metal contaminants in soft drinks is indeed a serious issue but further studies should be carried at Pan India level, may be through the public & private partnerships and the final outcome would better help to understand the extent of the situation. So, one must be careful about it and at the same time, keep an eye on the news to be abreast with the latest developments.
Importantly, it is the responsibility of the FBOs to ensure that safe and hygienic food is served to the consumer. The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 is being implemented to encourage the self-regulatory compliance and adherence to the FSSAI guidelines.