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India gives cola giants all-clear

Soft drinks giants Pepsi and Coca Cola insist their drinks are safe.
Soft drinks giants Pepsi and Coca Cola insist their drinks are safe.

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start quoteI think the heart of the problem is the scientific debate on what is healthy and safe. And therefore, we have delivered the most safe product across the world.end quote
-- Sanjiv Gupta, President Coca-Cola India

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- The Indian government says soft drinks sold by Coca Cola and Pepsi are safe to drink.

Earlier this month, a study carried out by the Center for Science and Environment (CSE) concluded the drinks contained dangerous levels of pesticides.

The environmental group said the drinks had up to 40 times more pesticide than permitted under European Union regulations and could potentially be dangerous to humans if taken over a long time.

But on Thursday, India's health minister Sushma Swaraj blasted the CSE's findings as inaccurate, telling parliament that while they found pesticide in both drinks, they were not as high as the CSE's and were well within Indian standards.

In India only bottled water is subject to government regulations on pesticides.

The director of the CSE has defended the group's findings and called for tighter regulations on the quality of water used in the manufacture of the drinks.

In recent days, protests have broken out on an almost daily basis, with angry consumers emptying bottles on the streets.

Lawmakers have called for a ban on Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola over the pesticide allegations.

Both Pepsi and Coke -- which dominate India's $1.5 billion soft drink industry -- are taking an unusually united stance insisting their brands are safe and meet international standards.

While the Indian market represents only slim revenues for both companies worldwide, Pepsi and Coke are keen the issue is capped as soon as possible to minimize damage to their global image.

No longer on menu

Tempers are fraying over the pesticide findings.
Tempers are fraying over the pesticide findings.

Coca-Cola has filed a lawsuit against CSE and its director, Sunita Narain, while Pepsi won a court order for the government to carry out independent testing.

Despite these efforts, sales of the products have slumped by 35 to 40 percent in India.

A number of Indian states have banned Coca-Cola and Pepsi drinks, the Indian parliament has removed the drinks from its cafeteria shelves, while Indian Airlines has said it is no longer serving Coke or Pepsi unless passengers request it.

Several central government MPs have fired off angry letters to the health ministry demanding to know how much pesticide is permitted in Indian soft drinks and seeking clarification of food and beverage standards

The CSE found residues of common agricultural pesticides -- especially DDT, lindane, chlorpyrifo and malathion -- on Indian-made Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Fanta, Sprite, 7-up, Mountain Dew.

India's health minister said the government's tests found no traces of DDT or malathion, which are banned from use in many parts of the world.

-- CNN's Ram Ramgopal in New Delhi contributed to this report


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