Four more states joined Delhi on Thursday to ban Maggi noodles sales and several others sent samples for tests amid mounting food safety fears, deepening a crisis for manufacturer Nestle India whose share price continued to tumble.
Gujarat and Uttarakhand banned the product for 30 and 90 days, respectively, after samples showed the instant noodles contained dangerously high levels of lead and the chemical flavour enhancer, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).
Assam government too decided to ban the chicken flavoured Maggi for 30 days after finding presence of monosodium glutamate (MSG) in the noodle.
Jammu and Kashmir announced a similar 30-day precautionary embargo but is yet to receive results of a lab test. The Tamil Nadu government banned sale, storage and manufacturing of Maggi and three other brands of noodles for three months.
“We can’t let someone to play with the health of the people, therefore the ban,” Uttarakhand health minister Surendra Singh Negi told HT.
At least 10 other states have sent samples of Maggi noodles for tests amid a widespread panic over food safety guidelines, a day after Delhi became the first state in the country to ban the product.
A number of prominent retailers including the Future Group, which runs Big Bazaar, Walmart and Metro AG have also pulled the ubiquitous “two-minute” snack from their shelves.
The flurry of bans hurt Nestle India with plunging sales of its flagship product sending share prices down by around 4%, following a nearly 10% slump on Wednesday. The company maintains its product is safe for consumption as its own internal and external tests showed “lead levels are well within the limits specified by food regulations”.
Watch: After ban, has Delhi given up on Maggi?
Health experts say excessive intake of lead can cause damage to the kidneys, bones and nervous system and is particularly harmful to children and can cause learning disorders. MSG, on the other hand, can damage the nervous system with long-term use.
The Uttar Pradesh Food Safety and Drug Administration (FSDA) also filed a criminal complaint against Nestle India besides dragging actors Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta separately for promoting the ‘two-minute’ noodles brand.
The brand of noodles is widely consumed across the country and contributes over a quarter to Nestle India’s revenues but sales have slumped since April when samples failed a lab test in UP.
Nestle India's stock fell by 2.91% to settle at Rs 6,010.80 on the Bombay Stock Exchange. During the day, it slipped 6.31% to Rs 5,800.10. On the NSE, the stock ended with a loss of 2.94% at Rs 6,004.45.
In Wedesday's session, the stock had lost 9%. The company's market valuation has dipped Rs 7,680.44 crore to Rs 57,953.56 crore in two consecutive trading sessions.
“The Maggi issue has dented the stock heavily. The stock is generally an outperformer even when the markets are down,” said Vinod Nair, head for fundamental research Geojit BNP Paribas Financial Services.
Officials in other states including Bihar, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Rajasthan said they have sent Maggi samples for laboratory tests.
The Centre has warned of strict action against the Indian subsidiary of Swiss food giant Nestle if samples were found unsafe for consumption. "When I came to know about Maggi issue I directed the department and the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) to look into the facts and initiate action," Union food minister Ramvilas Paswan told reporters.
The issue also spilled outside the country’s borders as neighbouring Nepal banned the sale and import of the popular snack for an undefined period and ordered tests for the Wai Wai noodles brand.
In Jammu and Kashmir, minister for consumer affairs and public distribution Choudhary Zulfkar Ali said the government banned the product based on newspaper reports and sent samples to Kolkata for examination.
“The ban will stay for a period of one month till the test report of the samples is received,” said the minister.
Results of tests in Uttarakhand are awaited but the state government has banned the product based on an earlier examination.
"We haven’t received sample report of 54 samples of the noodles taken from May 25 till 31. But a sample collected early this year from Pauri failed as it was found containing MSG and lead contents," said BR Tamta, the state’s joint commissioner of Food Safety and Standards Authority. The hill state also sent samples of milk, soup and other snack products for tests.
Stressing food safety, Walmart took the popular brand off shelves.
"Given our utmost focus on 'food safety' and ongoing concerns around this product, we have withdrawn the Maggi 2-minute noodles from our shelves across all 20 Best Price Modern Wholesale stores till further clarity...," a Walmart spokesperson said.
Germany-headquartered Metro AG has also discontinued Maggi sales in its 18 cash and carry stores across the country.
Likewise, consumer cooperative society Kendriya Bhandar also withdrew Maggi noodles from its 130 stores in and outside Delhi.
(with inputs from agencies)