Sunita Narain vs Indra Nooyi

It was in the beginning of this month that Sunita Narain‘s Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) after a fresh study claimed the presence of ‘pesticide cocktail’ in 11 brands of soft drink giants Coca Cola and PepsiCo, three years after the same brands were found to have contained pesticides. The 57 samples collected from 25 manufacturing units across 12 states were a ‘cocktail of 3-5 different pesticides’ which was 24 times above the standards finalised by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Kerala banned production and sale of colas of both Coca Cola and PepsiCo; and some other states too banned its distribution in schools and hospitals.

As expected, the associations representing industry in general such as CII and FICII came out heavily against the actions of the governments. While CII President R Seshasayee considered the government action as arbitrary, avoidable and one that has caused unnecessary panic; FICCI President is going to write to Kerala Chief Minister, appealing to him to ‘please follow the due process and let the regulator substantiate the violation as per existing laws before taking action’. Will CII and FICII heads permit their grandchildren to get addicted to Colas? Are these heads of associations afraid of MNCs?

Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola did come out with big ads helping media revenue and listed out the processes adopted by them to ensure that all the key ingredients were well within the permissible limits according to the BIS and international standards. Why and what are then the cola companies afraid of? But then comes the unique part of the government action. The Health Ministry had sent a letter to the BIS to defer setting of standards till its national level expert committee met over the issue.

Narain charges that cola companies, in collusion with Health Ministry officials, had deliberately blocked the final notification of the BIS committee. Perhaps this is the way big billion dollar- companies in free economy work. And over and above, the American media including the prestigious NYT almost are giving some threatening calls that the Kerala’s action may affect FDI in negative manner. And the media is relishing the different stories from its reporters.

I have some very simple questions. Can’t all the food technologists, health specialist in India and scientists decide if the standards of BIS for ingredient contents are stringent enough to be dropped as useless? Will the MNC companies having advertising and promotion budgets running in billions raise questions about their capabilities too and or buy them, if necessary? Why can’t the cola companies write on the wrapper the nutrients’ contents in the drink? If there is no nutrient good enough for children or patients, why can’t they put it on the wrapper too? If there is no problem with these drinks, why should my cardiologist doctor ask me not to drink the drinks? Why do the American housewives not permit their children to take it?

And then comes the news that must have elated all Indians. PepsiCo, the multi-billion MNC on Monday named Indra Nooyi, 50, as its new chief executive, succeeding Reinemund, who will retire in May 2007. And all the newspapers and magazines are agog with this news. Every one is vying to prove this the achievement of India management skills. What I wonder, has the PepsiCo put a lady of Indian origin as CEO to smoothen the conflicts in India business created by another feisty lady?

And then a question crops up and confuses me. Who is serving India’s cause better- Sunita or Indra?

A handful of rice = 34,180 colas

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