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Legal Cases Targeting Food and Beverage Industries

Consumer protection particularly in the food industry is of paramount importance across all countries. This case-study compares 2 such cases that recently occurred and insights into how the cases are being handled by the respective authorities and governments.

This year, in the US, a Lawsuit had been filed in opposition to soft drinks companies claiming their drinks were infected with the cancer-causing chemical benzene above that set as America’s legal limit for drinking water. Further, in India, another case has been filed which focuses the pesticides limits in soft drinks of Coca-cola and Pepsi co, the claiming party had accused these firms as they had exceeded the limit of pesticides within the drinks from the level marked by the government. If a similar case were to occur in Pakistan, there is a robust legal frame-work in which this can be handled.

Beverage industry case- US
In Feb 2008, Law firm McRoberts, Roberts & Rainer LLP had filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of a consumer against In Zone Brands, who make Bellywashers drinks, and also the Talking Rain Beverage Company. The suit claimed independent laboratory tests exposed that both companies had drinks infected with benzene, a known carcinogen, above the five parts per billion legal limits for benzene in tap water across the United States. Benzene lawsuits have now been filed in Kansas, Washington DC, Florida and Boston. This puts soft drinks firms under great pressure to eradicate or control benzene formation in their beverages. The alleged source is two widespread ingredients – sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in the drinks, these two ingredients could react to form benzene in drinks, as well as that revealing such a drink to heat could considerably hoist benzene levels.

After having the case strongly followed-up in the courts the agency re-opened its investigation into benzene in soft drinks, after it saw results from lab tests commissioned by lawyer Ross Getman and Larry Alibrandi, a concerned food scientist, who worked on soft drinks industry testing for benzene in soft drinks back in late 2007. To date the court records show that the case is still in proceeding stage and the next hearing is based on the report which is to be filed from the investigation committee.

Beverage industry case – India
Another case had been filed in April 2008 this time in the Indian beverage industry, claiming that the Coca-Cola and PepsiCo soft drinks firms have traces of pesticides in their products.

In this case India’s Health Ministry has rejected a campaign group’s study that found Coca-Cola and PepsiCo soft drinks containing pesticide residues an average 24 times above the proposed maximum limit. A team of experts, drafted in by the Ministry to examine the study, said there appeared to be errors in the testing procedure and that important data was missing. Coca-Cola said test data from the UK’s Central Science Laboratory, affiliated to the UK government, showed pesticide residues in its drinks were below the Indian government’s proposed 0.1 parts per billion limits for individual pesticides in fizzy drinks. The campaign group responded, saying its lab had used the same methods as many governments around the world, and has the international quality standard ISO 9001:2000. It has called for the Indian government to implement the proposed limits on pesticides in fizzy soft drinks, drawn up by the Bureau of Indian Standards.

Food Case handing – in Pakistan
How would such cases be handled In Pakistan? In general, the food laws are unified into one central legislation called “The Pure Food Ordinance, 1960” with its enforcement left to the provincial governments within the policy and statutory frameworks of the Central legislation.
If handled through the courts in Pakistan a counterpart sample may be sent by the Court on its own accord or on the request of the accused for second analysis by the Chemical Examiner of Government’s lab and this certificate will be treated as sufficient evidence of the facts stated therein until the contrary is proved. Pakistan law allows that the manufacturer/vendor to adequately prepare for his defence, as any counterpart of a lifted sample is also given to the manufacturer/ vendor from whom the article is purchased or seized for private analysis. This creates a robust legal frame-work for such cases within the country.

To conclude, Consumer safety is of prime concern for both of the countries, and steps like these showing the immediate reactions form the governments and authorities, indicate how the legal fraternity contributes to ensure or maintain food safety level across the world.

1. Though corporates, independent campaigners and Courts direct extensive resources and duplicate tests in these sorts of cases in parallel, the ultimate winner is the consumer, who can benefit from independent verification and quality assurance of the products they consume.
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