ASHOK SHARMA

NEW DELHI -- The water used in India's Coca-Cola is free of pesticides, a noted New-Delhi-based research center said following long-standing allegations that Coca-Cola and Pepsi soft drinks were tainted.

The announcement was made late Monday by The Energy and Resources Institute, or TERI, following an examination of six of Coca-Cola Co.'s bottling plants. The center gave the water a clean bill of health but said the soft drink maker needed to do more for water conservation in areas where it operates.

"None of the pesticides as per the scope of work were found to be present in process water used for beverage production by the plants," said the report. TERI is headed by Chief United Nations climate scientist Rajendra Pachauri, who shared last year's Nobel Peace Prize.

TERI said it was asked to carry out an independent evaluation of the plants by the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and the University of Michigan after a 2006 report by another Indian environmental group, the Center for Science and Environment, charged that Coca-Cola and Pepsi contain high levels of pesticides.

The report led to several Indian states banning the drinks until India's high court overturned the orders.

In response to the TERI report, CSE said Coca-Cola could not be described as pesticide-free, because only the water had been tested and not the rest of the ingredients.


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"TERI has not tested the final product, which we drink," said the CSE statement. "The CSE study in 2003 and 2006 tested bottles of colas and found pesticides above safe limits in the drinks."

Although many food products in India contain pesticides, the CSE said it focused on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo Inc. because they account for nearly 80 percent of India's $2 billion soft drink market.

The TERI report said their scientists had examined water intake, water used in the process and water discharge at the six plants -- four company-owned bottling operations and two franchise-owned factories.

Coca Cola India said commissioning the report was one of the many steps it was taking to improve its product.

"The TERI report confirms that we meet Indian regulations and on an overall basis our own ... standards, which are often more stringent," a statement from the company said.

However, the report said Coca-Cola needs to do more to help improve local water supplies, particularly in areas suffering from chronic shortages. Local communities at some plant locations have protested over what they describe as unregulated water extraction by Coca-Cola.

Coca Cola said as a result of the report, it was strengthening its plant siting requirements and its monitoring capabilities for rainwater harvesting and wastewater treatment.

"We also are expanding our efforts to work with local communities to ensure sustainability of the local water resources," the statement said.