Global food giant Nestle’s Maggi instant noodles are banned in many of the Indian states including the Capital city Delhi, due to the presence of Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and impermissible levels of lead.
Maggi, a 2 minute instant noodles, which became India’s favourite since its arrival in 1980’s, was often cited as a marketing and management case study, due to its rapid success in Indian markets as an easy-to-cook snack. Like a mascot, Maggi is an iconic brand that symbolizes Nestlé’s Character in India.
The whole crisis began with a routine inspection of Maggi samples done by a Food Safety and Drug Administration officer of an Indian state Uttar Pradesh, who collected samples of Maggi from a store on March 10, 2014 for tests to determine whether Nestle India was complying with its stated claim that the product doesn’t contain any monosodium glutamate (MSG), a taste enhancer. The tests revealed that, while the permissible lead content is only 0.01 ppm, Maggi samples contained 17 ppm.
The discovery of harmful chemicals in the popular snack triggered the suspicion in the rest of the country. According to the instructions given to the government by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to conduct the tests, samples collected from random stores were sent to labs. Many of the state governments have also sent the samples for tests.
After the tests conducted in the capital city Delhi, which revealed that 10 out of 13 Maggi samples failed the laboratory tests and were found to be unsafe, the product is banned for 15 days. Only one of the thirteen specimens tested by the Delhi government’s food safety lab was deemed acceptable, with lead levels in ten of them exceeding the prescribed limit while five were inaccurately branded and contained taste-enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) without proper declaration.
The Health minister of Karnataka, an Indian state, Mr. Khader, said that samples of noodles, spaghetti, pasta and macaroni made by other companies too will be sent for testing. “We understand that a toxic substance is used by many of these companies to ensure that the noodles and similar products so that they don’t stick together after cooking”, Hindustan Times reported.
Health advisors say excessive consumption of lead can cause lead poisoning, which can damage the nervous system, bones, kidneys, heart, liver and can lead to severe learning disorders, particularly in children. Monosodium glutamate, on the other hand, can damage the nervous system with long-term use and is particularly harmful to pregnant women and newborns.
Due to the presence of the dangerously high levels of lead and monosodium glutamate, in the popular snack, the FSSAI declared all the nine variants of Maggi as “unsafe and hazardous” for human consumption and asked the company to stop their production, import and sales with immediate effect and also directed it to rectify and comply with labelling regulations. The regulatory board has found three major violations : impermissible levels of lead, misleading ‘No added MSG’ labels on the packaging, and the release of Maggi Oats Masala Noodles without conducting risk assessment or product approval.
Till now at least 8 states have banned Maggi while many other states have sent samples for testing. A local court has ordered FIRs to be filed against Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and other brand ambassadors who endorsed Maggi.
But Nestle issued a statement clarifying the controversy that their internal testing revealed no excess lead in Maggi and that they don’t add MSG in their Maggi in India. They also added ‘Quality and safety of our products are top priorities for our company’.
Nestle’s global chief executive Paul Bulcke flew down to India and gave a clarification on the controversy saying “Our studies showed no lead or MSG in 1,035 tests … We have been carrying out tests on multiple batches and all results indicate Maggi noodles are safe for consumption,”. He also added “We decided to take the noodles off shelves as there was confusion about safety. The safety of our consumers is paramount. We are working with the authorities to clear up this confusion,”.
The crisis has knocked about 10% off Nestle India’s share price and Maggi sales plummeted across India. Late on Thursday, the company announced an India wide recall of the two-minute noodles off the shelves.
As the controversy spread across the borders, Singapore, followed by Nepal, has stopped the import and sale of the noodles while the UK’s food safety agency is going to test a few samples today.
The truth that the much-loved instant noodles product contained impermissible levels of lead hits Indians on their trust factor. Many of hostlers, kids and bachelors already miss Maggi, which served at least 2 generations of loyal customers in India.
Image(c): The guardian, Banglatribune.com