The government of Karnataka, in southern India, has filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola, claiming tests observed by state officials found excessive pesticide residues in some drinks, according to a report Monday by Agence France Presse
The move marks an escalation in the pesticides row, nearly three weeks after a campaigns group study found 57 Coke and Pepsi drinks containing between three and five different pesticides.
The group, Center for Science and Environment, said average pesticide levels were an average 24 times above the government's proposed limit.
It is the second time in three years that the CSE has released data showing Coke and Pepsi drinks contaminated with pesticides in India.
The latest report has prompted several states in India to ban Coca-Cola and PepsiCo from public buildings. The state of Kerala has completely banned the production and sale of the firms' soft drinks, a move now backed by a state court until a full hearing of the case.
Both firms have repeatedly stated their drinks were safe and paid for newspaper adverts to refute CSE's claims. The groups' shares have largely recovered from an initial dip after CSE published its report.
India is a key emerging market for Coke and Pepsi, containing roughly a sixth of the world's population and a soft drinks sector growing between seven and eight per cent per years.
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 limit for individual pesticides in fizzy drinks.
The lab also said in a letter, seen by BeverageDaily.com: ""There is no evidence in the (CSE) report that, even if the pesticides were present, the levels were measured with any accuracy".
CSE fought back, saying its lab had used the same methods as many governments around the world, and has the international quality standard ISO 9001:2000. It called for the Indian government to implement the proposed limits on pesticides in drinks, drawn up by the Bureau of Indian Standards.
CSE has also criticised those it believes are intent on making the pesticides affair an international trade dispute.
US trade official Frank Lavin last week warned India that bans on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo drinks could dent the country's chances of attracting investment from America. Lavin told news agency AFP it would be unfortunate if it appeared foreign companies were not being treated fairly in India.
CSE said that any such threat from the US would be a "shameful act of desperation".