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Doctors’ body defends juice brand endorsement, NGO slams it


New Delhi : The Indian Medical Association (IMA) Wednesday defended its decision to endorse Pepsico’s brand of fruit juice, saying people will avoid aerated drinks if they consume it, but the director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Sunita Narain said it was “very wrong” to endorse a particular brand.

Pepsico’s India affiliate has entered into a three-year deal with the IMA under which the association that represents 176,000 doctors is endorsing the Tropicana brand of fruit juices and Quaker oats.

IMA’s last president Ajay Kumar said: ”The brand approached us and we have not taken any money for it.”

But he added that Pepsico sponsors several health initiatives of the IMA.

Sources at IMA however said that for the endorsement the medical body received Rs.5 million, which will go into their general fund.

“If people will take pure juice then they will not take drinks like Pepsi, Mirinda or Coca Cola. We are also saying that those suffering from diabetes and kidney problems should consume them only after consulting their doctors,” Kumar told IANS on phone from Patna.

It was during his tenure that the endorsment was given a go-ahead.

He said the IMA agreed to endorse the product after it was cleared by the scientific committee, national working committee and the national central council of the IMA, an organisation that has 1,600 branches in the country and 176,000 members.

But Narain asked: “What’s the difference between Tropicana and any other fruit juice? Why are they endorsing only one particular brand?”

“It was very wrong for the IMA to make the endorsement,” Narain told IANS.

A senior IMA official who did not wish to be identified said here: “A doctor cannot endorse any brand, but the IMA as a body can do it. We have earlier also endorsed other brands like Eureka Forbes for which we received Rs.30 million.”

Eureka Forbes makes water purifiers.

“Just like cricketers and Bollywood stars endorse a product, we also do the same,” the source told IANS.

The association has also endorsed Dettol, an antiseptic, and Disprin, a painkiller.

Kumar held: “It is not a question of money; we care for the health of the people.”

“Is it a crime for a doctor to tell people about good health? These products have scientifically proven health benefits. We are not favouring Royal Challenge or MacDonald (alcohol brands) like what is happening in cricket.”

But Narain called the endorsement an “advertising trick”.

The same company, Pepsi, was “fighting the establishment of standards in the soft drinks industry”, she said.

A few years ago, CSE had charged that pesticide residues had been found in soft drinks made by Pepsi and Coca Cola, a charge denied by both companies. The furore caused by the charge led the Indian government to start the framing of standards for bottled drinks.

“If I have to watch a Pepsi advertisement, I’d rather watch (film star) Aamir Khan than some doctor. At least I know why he is modelling, and he’s definitely better looking.”