The Karnataka government has decided to lodge a "strong protest" with the union health ministry after the Central Food Technological Research Institute at Mysuru refused to test samples of Nestle's Maggi noodles sent to ascertain the presence of lead in the fast food.
Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, health minister U T Khader said, "We had sent 24 samples of the noodles to Mysuru but they refused to test it. If the central institution cannot be of use in a matter of such importance, why does it exist in Karnataka?"
Khader said that as a backup, the Maggi packets were also sent to a private lab in Bengaluru. "We are expecting the results by Thursday. If we find lead poisoning, likes eu have found in other states, we will not hesitate to ban it."
He 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."
Watch: After ban, has Delhi given up on Maggi?
Food products giant Nestle’s woes over Maggi noodles mounted on Wednesday as the Delhi government banned the popular snack for 15 days and India’s food safety regulator ordered nationwide tests amid growing concerns over the brand’s ingredients.
What began as a routine inspection of Maggi samples in the Uttar Pradesh town of Barabanki in March has developed into a storm that has led to the two-minute noodles swiftly disappearing from shelves of stores across the country.
It all began when VK Pandey, a 40-year-old Barabanki-based officer of the Uttar Pradesh Food Safety and Drug Administration, 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.
A test in a laboratory in Gorkahpur revealed the amount of MSG was more than the permissible level. When Nestle disputed the finding, further tests in one of the best laboratories in Kolkata confirmed the high MSG levels and detected dangerously high lead content in Maggi samples.
Pandey, who had earlier taken on Britannia for the "wrong" labelling of its non-vegetarian cake, told Hindustan Times that against the permissible lead content of 0.01 parts per million, the Maggi samples contained 17 parts per million.
The discovery has prompted authorities in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Odisha, Gujarat, Bihar, Assam, Punjab, Karantaka, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Kerala to either send samples of Maggi for tests or order the withdrawal of the popular snack from shops.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India ordered nationwide tests following an order from Union food minister Ram Vilas Paswan. "If contents are injurious to health, we will take action. We will find the culprits…they will be punished," he told the media.
On Wednesday, the Delhi government banned Maggi noodles for 15 days and asked Nestle to recall the noodles across the city. Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain said the action was taken after 10 of 13 samples of Maggi failed laboratory tests and were found to be unsafe because they contained more than the permissible level of lead.
Only one of 13 samples tested in a Delhi laboratory was deemed acceptable. Lead levels in 10 samples exceeded the prescribed limit and five were inaccurately branded and contained MSG without a proper declaration.
Kerala’s food ministry too decided to pull Maggi from more than 2,000 state-run supermarkets and grocery outlets. "Last week, we decided not to take fresh stocks until Nestle is cleared of all charges. Around 1,700 outlets have taken the product off their shelves," said food minister Anoop Jacob.
The Future Group, which runs the Big Bazaar retail stores across the country, too banned the sale of the noodles.
Nestle’s shares slumped more than 10% amid widespread panic over safety standards. The benchmark Bombay Stock Exchange asked Nestle to clarify reports on Maggi samples failing a safety test in Delhi.
Amid the growing controversy, a Bihar court on Tuesday directed police to register an FIR against two officials of Nestle India and Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta, who have promoted the two-minute snack in advertisements. The court in Muzaffarpur said they might be arrested if required.
Nestle India, in statements posted on its website, contended Maggi is safe as the results of "internal and external tests show that lead levels are well within the limits specified by food regulations".
It said samples of Maggi noodles from 600 product batches were sent to an external laboratory for independent analysis while samples from almost 1,000 batches were tested at a Nestle laboratory.
Nestle said it was cooperating fully with authorities after officials in Uttar Pradesh informed it about elevated levels of lead in a sample of Maggi and MSG in products labeled "no added MSG".