Coca-Cola will use Gov’t partnership to promote unhealthy products, experts say
New Delhi: The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) – the country’s premier government organization responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety –announced Tuesday that it has entered into a partnership with Coca-Cola India to provide training to vendors “in order to ensure safe and nutritious food for all.”
“FSSAI’s partnership is misguided and antithetical to the food regulator’s mission, and must be scrapped,” said India Resource Center.
“FSSAI should not enter into partnerships with entities it is supposed to regulate because it ensures conflicts of interest,” they said in a statement.
It is now widely recognized around the world that the vast majority of Coca-Cola products are neither safe nor nutritious, and Coca-Cola is the least qualified company to provide input on food safety and healthy nutrition.
Even as the FSSAI has announced the partnership, the parliament of India is slated to vote as early as this week on a measure that will introduce sin taxes on aerated beverages containing sugar – the bread and butter of Coca-Cola’s product portfolio.
The proposal to subject such products to a sin tax – proposed by India’s Chief Economic Advisor – was done so because it is acknowledged that sugar sweetened beverages such as Coca-Cola, Maaza, Thums Up, Sprite, Fanta and the likes – cause more harm than good due to the excessive sugar content in these products.
“One 330 ml can or bottle of Sprite in India contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, or 40 grams of sugar according to Coca-Cola. The sugar content of just one can of Sprite exceeds the daily added sugar intake recommended by the American Heart Association, which recommends 6 teaspoons of added sugar for women and 9 teaspoons for men per day.”
In April 2016, a group of public health professionals from around the world signed a statement in support of the proposed sin tax in India, noting that, “Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages in ways similar to tobacco is a positive step forward to protect the public health interests of all Indians.”
Unsafe Coca-Cola Sparked Creation of FSSAI
The partnership between FSSAI and Coca-Cola is even more troubling because the existence of FSSAI came about as the result of a Joint Parliamentary Committee report confirming the presence of high levels of pesticides in Coca-Cola and other beverages in India – which were initially reported in 2003 by the Centre for Science and Environment.
The investigation into the presence of high levels of pesticides in Coca-Cola and other beverages in India found a failure of the regulatory mechanism in India and the FSSAI was established to regulate food safety after the consolidation of various food safety laws in the country.
FSSAI Tasked With Developing Regulations to Ban Coca-Cola and Junk Food in Schools
The FSSAI has also been put in charge by the Delhi High Court to develop regulations to ban junk food in schools and a 50 meter radius – foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) – which includes Coca-Cola products.
The Court’s orders, issued in March 2015, were passed primarily to protect children’s health by removing access to harmful products like Coca-Cola, came as the result of public interest litigation filed by the Delhi- based Uday Foundation in December 2010 which had sought an immediate ban on junk food and carbonated drinks in schools and a 500 yard radius.
Over 18,000 CBSE-Affiliated Schools Ban Coca-Cola Due To Health Concerns
In August 2015, a committee set up by the Ministry of Child and Women’s Development also called for a ban on junk food, including sugar sweetened beverages in Indian schools, recognizing the “growing problems of obesity in children and its relationship with consumption of junk food.”
The Committee was constituted under the Chairmanship of Director, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad and members of the Committee” included representatives from Neeti Ayog, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Department of AYUSH, Ministry of HRD, Bureau of Indian Standards, FSSAI, National Institute of Public Cooperation & Child Development, ICMR and independent experts in the field of nutrition and clinical psychology/ behavioural science.”
As a result, Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) issued an order on January 16, 2016 requiring that:
“Schools are required to ensure that there is no HFSS foods (such as chips, fried foods, carbonated beverages, ready-to-eat noodles, pizzas, burgers, potato fries and confectionery items, chocolates, candies, samosas, bread pakora etc.) available in the school canteens. In so far as possible in their capacity, schools are also urged to take the possible necessary steps to ensure non-availability of HFSS around 200 meters of the school.”
CBSE has over 18,000 affiliated schools in India.
Coca-Cola Gross Violator of Environmental Laws in India
Coca-Cola is a gross violator in India, and remains the target of many communities across India accusing the company of creating water shortages and pollution.
Coca-Cola’s second largest bottling plant in India – located in Hapur in Uttar Pradesh – remains shut down due to court orders because the company has been found to be discharging untreated wastewater from the plant. A fully built $25 million expansion plant in Varanasi district was also refused permission to operate by the regulators because of water scarcity.
“For Coca-Cola, a partnership with India’s top food safety organization is a no brainer because it allows the company to use the Indian government’s brand and logo to wash its hands of all the violations and the public health harm its products create. Even more troubling is that Coca-Cola will promote its unhealthy products using the Indian government brand. This is absolutely unacceptable,” said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, and international campaigning organization.
“This is not the kind of company that government regulators should keep company with. The government of India should take immediate steps to nullify the MOU signed with Coca-Cola.”