SC seeks records of food safety panel on soft drinks

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 23, 2012 13:00 hrs

New Delhi, Nov 23 (IANS) The Supreme Court Friday sought records of a Food Safety and Standards Authority of India's (FSSAI) committee which said carbonated beverages do not pose health hazard and there were no benzene residues in the soft drinks.

Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra called for the records of the FSSAI's technical committee after counsel Prashant Bhushan said the authority's Sep 12 order was given by its committee on advertisement and labelling, not by the scientific panel on food additives.

As Bhushan focused on the health hazards of carbonated beverages, Justice Radhakrishnan observed that the "best course is to educate people not to consume beverages."

"All cricketers are promoting soft drinks on television," he said.

Assailing the order which was submitted to the court, Bhushan said the order, issued Sep 12 by FSSAI assistant director Kamal Kumar, was like affixing the authority's stamp on a report by soft drink manufacturers.

Bhushan, appearing for petitioner Centre for Public Interest Litigation, told the court that the order said benzene residue in carbonated beverages was formed only under certain conditions when agents like benzoates and ascorbic acid were present together with heat, ultraviolet light and metallic ion mixture.

"However, in the absence of benzoic acid and ascorbic acid together, benezene residues are not generated (in carbonated beverages)," the order said.

It said that according to studies by Indian Council for Medical Research, the consumption pattern of the beverages was only 500 ml per day in a "worst case scenario which do not appear to pose any health hazard."

The order said Indian Beverage Association had confirmed to the FSSAI that in India, benzoic and ascorbic acids were not present together in the beverages.

Seeking the minutes of the technical committee which had a hearing for eight days, Bhushan asked if the FSSAI had itself done any test to determine the presence of benzoic acid in carbonated beverages.

Bhushan told the court that the FSSAI was not accepting the findings of its own lab in Ghaziabad.

Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, who appeared for one of the respondents, told the court that all the prayers made by the petitioner NGO have been satisfied after the union government enacted a law comprehensively addressing the issues raised in the petition.

He told the court that it was nearly eight years since the court was seized of the matter.

Additional Solicitor General P.P. Malhotra, who appeared for the government, said the technical committee was authorised to look into the additives. He said Bhushan had appeared before the committee on five occasions but had never raised this objection.

However, Justice Radhakrishnan said the issue raised by Bhushan was serious and called for the records of the meetings of the committee.

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