The Supreme Court asked a government laboratory in Karnataka on Wednesday if lead and glutamic acid levels in samples of Maggi noodles it tested recently were within permissible limits, with the instant snack brand in fresh trouble after being banned by several states last year over safety concerns.
A bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra issued the order after examining the lab report of the tests conducted on the samples in October based on the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC)’s orders. The samples were provided by the ministry of consumer affairs.
“We are also concerned about this (entire dispute over lead content) since it is consumed a lot by the younger generation. But there has to be a fair play,” the bench said when the Centre’s counsel Vibha Dutt Makhija strongly opposed a claim from advocate Harish Salve representing Maggi manufacturer Nestle India that the contents were within safe limits.
Nestle India came under fire last year with more than half a dozen states banning Maggi sales after finding dangerously high levels of lead and flavour-enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) in the snack that was hugely popular all the way from streetside stalls in coastal Kerala to the mountains of Ladakh.
But the two-minute noodle brand made a comeback after passing tests at three government labs, following which the Bombay high court lifted the ban.
The Supreme Court left it to the Karnataka laboratory to clarify the contentious issue and also state whether any exclusive tests can be conducted to ascertain the MSG content in the samples.
“We have perused the test reports. We would like Central Food Technological Research Institute (CTRI), Mysore to apprise this court on two aspects, whether the test report relating to lead and glutamic acid are within the permissible parameters prescribed under the Food Safety Act,” the bench ordered. MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid.
With regard to a second round of tests, to be conducted on the samples seized by the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) stored in its Lucknow godown, the bench permitted the laboratory to ask for additional samples from the NCDRC registrar.
In its report the institute had expressed its inability to carry out a full-fledged test due to insufficient samples.
The top court said the NCDRC registrar, who was appointed as a local commissioner, “shall collect the samples from FSSAI godown in Lucknow and send it to CTRI, which shall place a final report within eight weeks”. The court will take up the matter on April 5.
The SC had on December 16 ordered the testing of Maggi noodles in the Mysuru lab after Nestle India challenged the NCDRC order sending the samples to a Chennai laboratory. It had then stayed the proceedings before the commission.
The central government’s department of consumer affairs has filed a Rs 640-crore suit against the company for alleged unfair trade practices.
The apex court has already issued a notice to Nestle India on the FSSAI’s appeal against the Bombay high court order lifting the ban on nine variants of the fast food.