The case was filed August 12 after state health department-supervised laboratory tests showed excessive amounts of pesticide in Coca-Cola product samples, Karnataka Health Minister R. Ashok said.
“The government will not hesitate to initiate action, be it against a multinational company or an Indian firm,” Ashok told reporters in Bangalore, India’s high-tech hub.
The case was the first to be filed by a state government against Coke since a New Delhi-based environmental group said earlier this month that tests of products made by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo showed high pesticide levels.
The minister did not say whether PepsiCo products were also tested at the private laboratory in the state capital of Bangalore. He also gave no details of the tests.
According to legal documents, the tests found that the Coke products contained a pesticide called malathion beyond permissible limits.
Exposure to high amounts of malathion can cause difficulties with breathing, chest tightness, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea and other symptoms, doctors say.
“We filed a case under the provisions of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act,” Ashok said. The law provides for prison sentences of up to five years for anybody responsible for violating the act.
The Centre for Science and Environment sparked national uproar and drew international headlines with a study it released early this month alleging high levels of toxic chemicals in 57 drink products taken from 25 different Indian Coca-Cola and PepsiCo plants.
The report prompted southern Kerala state to ban Coke and Pepsi drinks while five other states, including Karnataka, barred them from schools and government offices.
The report was a follow-up to the group’s findings three years ago that the companies’ soft drinks contained high pesticide levels.
Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have maintained their drinks are safe.
“We’re completely confident in the safety of our soft drinks in India because they are produced to the same level of purity regarding pesticides as the stringent EU (European Union) criteria for bottled water,” Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kari Bjorhus said.
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