Sunday, September 24, 2006

Why the ban on Coke is a real Joke !

We, as consumers, today are a lot more conscious about what we buy and what we eat - which is a good sign. The increasing alertness about our eating habits and our lifestyle has led to a series of changes that have happened all around us.

- Food manufacturing companies are giving more nutritional information on the packs.
- Fitness Equipment Manufacturing companies have increased their visibility.
- Healthy Food alternatives have "mushroomed".

Overall, we are more aware about how, what we do, affects our health.

Gone are the usual suspects .. drugs, tobacco and alcohol. The latest entrants to our "hit list" are .. Sugar, Trans Fat, Carbohydrates, Caffeine, Calories and even Sodium and Calcium ! Its Ironic, that till some time back most of these were considered to be actually healthy for us. Well, no more !

It is now an acknowledged fact that "lactose intolerance" is a valid reason for excusing someone from drinking milk. My kids would love to use that one !

Fast Food is now synonymous with Junk Food and the two phrases are often (mis)used for each other. Pizzas, Burgers, French Fries, Hot Dogs - are all viewed with a jaundiced eye - and so are Colas. It's surprising how Colas have got automatically connected with Junk Food - speaks volumes for the marketing prowess of Fast Food proponents like McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Wimpeys. Their combo deals of Burgers+Fries+Cola have ensured that all these food categories now enjoy (?) the same fate.

Corporate marketing genius notwithstanding, personally, I'd stay away from a Cola. Yes, that stuff dissolves teeth - and I've seen it happen. I put my daughter's (broken, milk) tooth in a cup of Cola and it actually dissolved in 2 days' time.

Probably nothing to do with the Pesticide content, but more to do with the Phosphoric Acid (or some such component, they'll never tell us, will they ?) inherent in Cola drinks.

This new found awareness has also led the consumer movement to "move" the Government and it has risen to the occasion. It's one of those rare times that the Government has actually reacted - even though it has done so in its typical bureaucratic, knee-jerk, haphazard, unthinking, tunnel-visioned way !

Which brings me to the recent "ban" on Colas .. and the even more recent "lifting" of the ban. The big ruckus started with one Lab report that there was a high content of Pesticide found in the Colas.

Now this is not something new. A few years back, there was a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) Report that spoke volumes (literally) about the harmful effects of Colas. and surprisingly, the Government chose to do nothing till now.

In fact, this matter came to the fore again when Swami Ramdev (who in his own inimitable style) raised the issue repeatedly in his yoga discourses .. his catch phrase was "thanda matlab toilet cleaner". I'm sure when the cat is out of the bag, he may well be proved right !

Anyway, in spite of the JPC Report it seems we still don't have a law for Cola companies to adhere to, which I believe was their legal defence. They probably said, "Tell us clearly what the law specific to Cola manufacturing is and prosecute us if we don't comply".

Much as I do not like the stuff myself, I'm willing to grant them this concession. Sounds pretty fair to me !

Incidentally, while Aamir Khan actually put his mouth where his money is ... did you notice that the Pepsi CEO didn't actually "drink" the stuff !

I would have really loved to see Pepsi's entire Board of Directors' families drink the stuff ... kids and grand kids, included. And don't try and tell me that the Advertising Standard Council of India has banned the depiction of children in Ads, etc. etc. If they can be shown consuming Horlicks, Maggi, Real Juice and Boomer gum, well they can be shown drinking Coke and Pepsi.

So whether it contains Pesticides or not, I'm not going to let my kids drink that stuff and I don't care if Aamir Khan and the CEO of Pepsi run their Ads every 5 minutes.

There are still a few misguided people whose actions are, well .. misguided to say the least ! Other than sensational political mileage, what good can come out of raiding the warehouses and godowns of the Cola manufacturing companies ? It’s just a cheap publicity gimmick - just like saying, "Don't write us off, we're alive!"

If they're really interested in the common good, they should get their own "experts" to draft a policy and submit that to their partners in the UPA Government, and force the Government into approving it. Once it becomes a law, then get the Cola companies to tow the line.

But, our Government has a sense of humour - and it just loves to be ambiguous. They have recently passed a "Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), 2006".

The FSSA supercedes (and repeals) at least SEVEN different current laws including The Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act 1954, The Milk and Milk Products Order (MPO) 1992, The Fruit Products Order (FPO) 1955, The Meat Food Products Order 1973, The Vegetable Oil Products (Control) Order 1947, The Edible Oil Packaging (Regulation) Order 1998, The Solvent Extracted Oil, DeOiled Meal and Edible Flour (Control) Order 1967.

What is really very amusing is that the FSSA is dated August 23, 2006, while there has been a PFA (Seventh) Amendment Rules passed on August 21, 2006 !!

The PFA Amendment lays down strict guidelines for labelling instructions, including the mention of and two days later another law is enacted that repeals the PFA Act completely ! So what are the food manufacturing companies going to do ? Do they follow the labelling requirements .. or not ?

It is this ambiguity that permits ridiculous things to happen. For instance, pick up a bottle of Coke .. and check the label. You will find some Nutritional Information like Carbohydrates and Proteins mentioned per 100 ML (millilitre). It’s easy to figure out how much does the whole bottle contain, as the product sold is by volume, i.e. 500 ML, 1 Litre, etc.

But, here's the catch .... (you knew there was one, didn't you ?). "Added Sugar" is mentioned very prominently, as "10.2g/100gm" ... !!!!!!

Now how in God's name are we to figure out how many ML of Coke weighs how many GMS ?? Who is the person responsible for this rule and who cleared it ? I want to know (RTI et al) and I want him accountable for the agony it has caused me trying to calculate ! I want it changed so that we don't have to become mathematical geniuses to figure out what to eat !

This is one of the main reasons why I feel that any talk of a ban on Pepsi and Coke .. is .. well .. a cruel joke, on the common man. The Kerala State Government banned the manufacture and sale of Colas under the Kerala State PFA Act and the High Court reversed it saying that the Government has no authority to ban the manufacture and sale of a product under this Act !

Now didn't the Kerala State Government know this ? What with the highest literacy in the country .. these smart guys didn't know it ?? Or was there an ulterior motive of the ruling political party of that State in gaining some mileage ?

But seriously, if this happens in the State with the highest literacy in the country ... where does that leave us commoners ??

... And what was that about common sense being so uncommon .... ?

Well ... and that's how I feel ...


pitfinder said...

Uh, I don't think I'm going to try to open any sort of business there any time soon.
We have a lot of silly things in government and laws, but I don't feel so bad after reading this. :-)

Hope somebody gets it figured out one of these days.

SNO said...

Here we do business, despite the Government !

And the only guys who have it figured out are the guys who made these rules !