In an announcement that is likely to bring much cheer to many urban households, Nestle India has said that Maggi noodles have been found safe after tests that were ordered by the Bombay High Court. Retail sales of the popular noodles will start later this month, according to Nestle. These tests were conducted by the National Accreditation Board for Testing Calibration Laboratories (NABL) mandated by a recent Bombay High Court order. The tests have reportedly found that the lead content was well below permissible limits. For those who have just tuned into the recent debate on Maggi noodles, here is a quick primer. Earlier this year, laboratory tests allegedly found eight times the permissible limits of lead. Moreover, some Maggi noodles samples were reportedly found to contain higher-than-permissible levels of monosodium glutamate (MSG). In came the much-maligned Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, which ordered Nestle to “withdraw and recall” all nine Maggi noodle variants, halt their production and also stop exports, saying samples were found to be “unsafe and hazardous” for consumption. Not surprisingly the naysayers were out in full force as soon as the ban hit the popular brand. Taking on Maggi, Baba Ramdev had said that the company should be asked to pack up and leave the country. It goes without saying that this was a clever ploy to pitch for his brand of Maida free Maggi. Ramdev had hoped that the controversy had done enough to scare off people and attract them to Patanjali-made noodles. More than Ramdev’s ploy, however, the entire saga showed the FSSAI and India’s regulatory authorities in poor light.
Suffice to say, there was no conclusive evidence to prove that Maggi was indeed unsafe for consumption. Certain government-approved labs had reported that the lead content was indeed below permissible limits. However, the Government of India saw it fit to tarnish the image of the popular noodles’ brand, without performing due diligence. How does the government hope to attract foreign investments, when our regulatory systems are in such a mess? The FSSAI has now set down an online application process asking different food products across various companies in India to state their detailed manufacturing process, ingredients and source of raw materials for approval. They have also set an upper limit as far as the inclusion of additives such as lead or MSG is concerned. However, in spite of all the guidelines, there is no legal provision that mandates the testing of products before approval. This is only the beginning of a series of faults within the FSSAI machinery. One of its major flaws is that once there is a notice for a ban or approval initiated, there is no system in place which ensures the smooth running of the decisions taken within the FSSAI. The status of delayed approval is also one of the common complaints as far as the FSSAI’s functioning is concerned.
Last month, the Bombay High Court finally lifted all the bans on the nine variants of Maggi noodles. However, while setting the ban aside the court demanded that five samples of the noodle variants be sent for fresh tests before bringing it back in the market. Nestle had immediately obliged to the court’s decision releasing a statement saying that they would immediately send in products for testing as they are looking for their earliest return to the Indian market. In spite of lifting the ban, the court has further slammed a Rs 640 crore fine on Nestle India for misleading advertisements, unfair trade practices, and false labeling. Nestle India has honoured the court by accepting all charges and agreeing to pay the fines with immediate notice, unwilling to further undergo a prolonged litigation process. Those tests results are now out. The Maggi instant noodles brand has now redeemed itself.