Coca-Cola Co. has become the latest soft drinks giant to face a lawsuit over the alleged use of lead in labels on its products.

The US state of California yesterday (16 May) launched legal action against the company, claiming that labels on Coke products produced in Mexico and on sale in the state contained lead.

Coke's arch rival PepsiCo last month settled out of court on the same issue and hinted that other firms were set to face similar litigation.

Coke, however, dismissed the "outlandish allegations" contained in the suit. "All Coca-Cola beverages, including those made in Mexico, are safe and comply with all laws," said Ray Steed, the company's vice president of quality and technical services.

Coke said it had already met "many" of the demands brought in the lawsuit, at a "considerable cost to the Coca-Cola system".

The company added: "The plaintiffs know full well that these actions have been taken already, which makes this lawsuit all the more egregious."

Coke claimed it had made "every effort" to settle the case out of court and had offered to pay "significantly more" than PepsiCo did in its settlement.

Coke also took a swipe at the motives of those bringing the suit. "The rejection of these offers has everything to do with political ambition and with the greed of a bounty-hunting attorney who lives thousands of miles away from California," Coke said. "It is shameful that any public official can find common cause with someone whose focus is on personal gain, not public health."

Coke insisted the subject of the lawsuit was not being produced and that all the company's bottles manufactured in Mexico were "100% lead-free". "Every bottle of authorized Coca-Cola from Mexico sold in California is 100% lead-free," the company added.