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MEME - 'Coke and Pepsi Used as Pesticides in India'


Outline

Circulating meme claims that Coke and Pepsi Are Used as Pesticides in India because they are cheaper and more effective than the real thing.

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Brief Analysis

As strange as it may seem, some Indian farmers have reportedly used colas and other sugary drinks as pesticide substitutes. However, if the technique is effective at all, it is likely that the sugary liquid attracts predators such as ants that feed on plant pests or because the carbohydrates and sugar boost the plant's immunity against pests. Media reports about the practice first surfaced back in 2004. However, it is currently unclear if Indian farmers still use colas as pesticide substitutes today. The story may have gained extra momentum after a 2006 study reportedly found high levels of pesticides in Coke and Pepsi products sold in India.

Example

Coke and Pepsi Used as Pesticides India

Coke and Pepsi Are Used as Pesticides in India

Farmers in India in the state of Chhattisgarh use coke and pepsi as pesticides because it’s cheaper than pesticides and gets the job done just as well. Video below.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola strongly disagree that their products can be used as pesticides because they say there is nothing in the drinks that can be used as pest control. But, the Farmers in the Durg, Rajnandgaon and Dhamtari districts of Chhattisgarh disagree and have successfully used Pepsi and Coke to protect their rice plantations against pests.


Detailed Analysis

According to a meme that is currently making its way rapidly around the interwebs, Indian farmers are using Coke and Pepsi as a substitute for pesticides because the drinks are cheaper and give better results.

Reportedly True:

Although it may sound like a silly hoax, credible reports suggest that Indian farmers have indeed used colas and other sugary drinks as pesticide substitutes on their crops. A November 2004 BBC article on the issue noted:
For farmers in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh it is cheaper than pesticides and gets the job done just as well. The product? Pepsi or Coca-Cola.
Agricultural scientists give them some backing - they say the high sugar content of the drinks can make them effective in combating pests.
Unsurprisingly, Pepsi and Coca-Cola strongly disagree, saying there is nothing in the drinks that can be used in pest control.
Another November 2004 article in The Guardian also reported on the practise:

Indian farmers have come up with what they think is the real thing to keep crops free of bugs.
Instead of paying hefty fees to international chemical companies for patented pesticides, they are reportedly spraying their cotton and chilli fields with Coca-Cola.
In the past month there have been reports of hundreds of farmers turning to Coke in Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh states.
But as word gets out that soft drinks may be bad for bugs and a lot cheaper than anything that Messrs Monsanto, Shell and Dow can offer, thousands of others are expected to switch.
And, on a per litre basis, and mixed at the same ratios, cola drinks are indeed considerably less expensive than real pesticides.

Effectiveness Unclear:

However, there is a decided lack of concrete data on how effective the cola substitute really is and, if it is effective, what mechanism actually makes it work.

Not surprisingly, Coke and Pepsi have disputed the claims. A spokesperson for Coke told The Guardian:
Soft drinks do not act in a similar way to pesticides when applied to the ground or crops. There is no scientific basis for this and the use of soft drinks for this purpose would be totally ineffective.

Why it May Work:

Nevertheless, agricultural experts in India have put forward theories explaining why the technique may actually work. Agriculture analyst, Devinder Sharma suggested that the sugary liquids might be attracting red ants that feed on the larvae of insects, thereby reducing pest problems. He noted that farmers in the region had traditionally used solutions made from sugarcane for that purpose.

The reports note that farmers use a variety of sugary soft drinks, not just Coke and Pepsi.

Unrelated articles about natural pest control methods support the idea that sugar water spayed on plants can attract ants that will stay around to eat pests.

Another scientist, Sanket Thakur suggested that the carbohydrates and sugar in the drinks might boost the immunity of crops resulting in higher overall yields.

More Recent Reports Lacking:

As noted, various news outlets reported the practice back in 2004. However, I could find no follow-up reports from more recent years other than those that simply regurgitated the 2004 reports. If it was really as effective as claimed, one might assume that the technique would have steadily grown in popularity, not only in India, but elsewhere. It is thus unclear if the practice of using colas as pesticide substitutes is still being used in India and - if so - how widely.


2006 Pesticide Contamination Scare Added To Story:

In August 2006, a New Delhi environmental group released a study claiming that Coke and Pepsi products had residual pesticide levels that significantly exceeded proposed Indian standards.

Some commentators subsequently suggested that the apparent effectiveness of the products as pesticides may have been related to this alleged contamination. But, there was no evidence to suggest that the contamination was so intense that the soft drink would work in the same way as pesticides when sprayed on crops. A soft drink with enough pesticide residue to actually control pests when diluted and sprayed on crops would likely be undrinkable.

Moreover, the way that the study was conducted was strongly criticised and its findings have been disputed.


Thus, soft drinks may actually have a degree of effectiveness against some plant pests. But, while the meme is based on factual reports, it is perhaps not the potent anti-cola weapon that some 'alternative' health advocates apparently believe it to be.



Last updated: May 20, 2014
First published: May 20, 2014
Written by Brett M. Christensen
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References
Farmers tackle pests with colas
Things grow better with Coke Managing Pests and Plant Diseases
Behind the Coke-Pepsi Pesticide Scare
Government lab criticises pesticides in soft drinks study
Coke and Pepsi Are Used as Pesticides in India