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Maggi noodles banned in Delhi, U’khand; Future hazy as complaint filed
Friday, 05 June, 2015, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Ashwani Maindola, New Delhi
The testing of Maggi noodles that started in Barabanki, a town in state of Uttar Pradesh, 15 months ago, has now snowballed into a nationwide controversy that has resulted in a ban on the instant food in two states - Delhi and Uttarakhand - and an uncertain prospect in the country in view of the complaint filed by Union government against its manufacturers.

After testing in a Kolkata lab, the samples, taken by a UP food safety official, were found having high levels of MSG - Monosodium Glutamate and Lead.

Soon other states followed and state after state across India started testing the noodles. In fact, in many regions, the testing was not restricted to Maggi and many other brands also came under the scanner.

Complaint with NCDRC
Meanwhile, taking cognizance of the many state governments acting proactively on the complaints against Maggi, the Union government on Wednesday filed a complaint against Nestle India with the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), following samples of Maggi noodles containing Lead beyond permissible limits.

Further, food and consumer affairs minister Ram Vilas Paswan told reporters here that the NCDRC would probe the matter and take appropriate action. He said that the government, for the first time, was taking action under Section 12-1-D of the Consumer Protection Act, under which both Centre and states had powers to file complaints.

According to him, as there would be delay in getting the reports from food safety watchdog FSSAI (Food Safety & Standards Authority of India) and since it concerned consumers' health, the government decided to file a written complaint before the NCDRC.

He said that until the inquiry was complete, the government cannot take action either against the company or the brand ambassadors.

Ban in Delhi and Uttarakhand
In a recent move, Delhi and Uttarakhand have banned the sale of Maggi. Delhi government has imposed 15 days ban on sale of Maggi noodles and ordered testing of similar products of other companies.

The Uttarakhand Food Safety Department collected samples of Maggi noodles from the company's Pantanagar plant and other places in the state, sending them to state government laboratories for tests and banning thereafter.

In a press conference, Delhi state health minister Satyendra Jain stated that the ban would be enforced immediately and Nestle has been asked to withdraw its entire lot from the market. The company has been given 15 days and fresh testing would be done of the lot after that to check whether it contained any unwanted elements like MSG or Lead.

The minister added that similar products, noodles, from other brands would also be tested for the presence of unhealthy matters.

The Department Of Food Safety, Government of Delhi, conducted sample tests and analyses of Maggi noodles. Samples were found unsafe and misbranded. Only one out of 13 samples was found genuine while government decided to take strict action against the company after the final report. Further case is to be initiated for selling unsafe product and fine imposed for misbranding, according to Delhi government.

The Delhi government has stated that on receipt of an email from Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and newspaper reports, the department of food safety, ministry of health, and food safety officers of the department were directed to collect samples of Maggi noodles from various parts of Delhi.

Last week, a total of 13 samples of Maggi noodles were lifted and on test/analysis of the same it was found that in case of masala (tastemaker) part of the noodles, 10 masala samples were found unsafe for having Lead exceeding prescribed limits. The prescribed maximum limit of Lead is 2.5 ppm.Five samples of masala were also having Monosodium Glutamate without proper label declaration. This falls under the category of misbranding.

The government has decided to initiate a case against the company for selling an unsafe products and fine the company for misbranding the product. The officials of Nestle were also summoned by the Delhi Government. The detailed & final report of the test/analysis is awaited and the government has decided to take further strict action in the case, once it is received.

Jain also met Nestle officials on Wednesday morning, and said that he was not satisfied with their response.Analysts say Maggi noodles contribute over 20 per cent to Nestle's revenues in India and a ban on the product could cause a huge dent in the company's bottom line.

CSE welcomes initiative
Meanwhile, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has welcomed the food authorities’ initiative in testing processed food for contaminants like heavy metals – in the context of the ongoing controversy on Maggi noodles. Responding to the issue, Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director-general and head of its food safety programme, said: “It’s an issue of public health and public good – hence, there is no room for any compromise on this issue. It’s great that for the first time, processed food is being tested for contaminants like heavy metals by our food safety authorities.”

A CSE lab research into various kinds of junk food – done in 2012 – had found that Maggi instant noodles came with a high salt content. A packet of noodle had around 3 gram of salt – the recommended salt intake per person per day is 6 gram. Says Amit Khurana, programme manager of CSE’s food safety team: “This means that if you eat a packet of these noodles, you will have to watch your salt intake very carefully through the rest of the day. Consumption of such ultra processed foods high in salt is associated with the increased risk of obesity and diabetes.”

The lab study had also found that addition of vitamins, as claimed by Maggi, did not make it a healthy food as it had negligible fibre; 70 per cent of it was just carbohydrates.

Other states
Amongst others, Karnataka government on June 2 ordered random lifting of samples of the product from across the state for laboratory testing after allegations of lapses in food safety standards came to the fore. There are four Maggi manufacturing units in the state.

The Government in Haryana has also ordered random testing of Maggi noodles' samples on June 2 from every district in the state for laboratory testing after the allegations about it being unsafe gained credence.

The Kerala government temporarily ordered a halt on the distribution of Maggi noodles from over 1,000 government retail outlets in the state in the wake of Uttar Pradesh FSDA finding MSG and lead above permissible limits in the popular snack.

West Bengal Food Department will convene a high-level meeting to take a view on the ongoing controversy surrounding Maggi noodles.

A Bihar court reportedly ordered the registration of an FIR against Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta, who have featured in the Maggi advertisements, and said they could be arrested, if required. The court passed the order in response to a complaint filed by advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha who claimed he was taken ill after eating the 'two-minute' noodles.

However, Goa and some parts of Maharashtra have declared that Maggi is safe for eating.

Punjab and Telangana are also conducting lab testing of the samples of Maggi Noodles.

Company statement
Meanwhile, according to Nestle India press statement on May 21, it has yet to come out with a statement post Delhi government’s ban, “The quality and safety of our products are the top priorities for our company.”

“We have in place strict food safety and quality controls at our Maggi factories, including thorough quality checks at each stage of our raw material sourcing and manufacturing process. This includes comprehensive testing to ensure that Maggi noodles comply with all applicable food safety laws, as well as our own high standards of quality and safety before they reach our consumers.

“We are aware of reports that tests by the local authorities have detected Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) in a sample of Maggi noodles and that they are continuing their investigation. We have submitted product samples to an independent accredited laboratory and will share the results with the authorities.”

“We do not add MSG to our Maggi noodles sold in India and this is stated on the concerned product. However, we use hydrolysed groundnut protein, onion powder and wheat flour to make Maggi noodles sold in India, which all contain glutamate. We believe that the authorities’ tests may have detected glutamate, which occurs naturally in many foods.”

“We are also aware of the reports of elevated levels of lead in a pack of Maggi noodles analysed by the authorities. We regularly monitor for Lead as part of our stringent quality control processes, including testing by accredited laboratories. These tests have consistently shown Lead levels in Maggi noodles to be within permissible limits. We have submitted product samples to an independent accredited laboratory and will share the results with the authorities.”
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