India’s food regulator ordered the withdrawal of all nine Maggi instant noodle varieties from markets on Friday, tagging them “unsafe” for human consumption, dealing a fresh blow to manufacturer Nestle India that is struggling to contain a spiralling crisis that has knocked 10% off its share price.
The move came hours after Nestle recalled the popular snack across the country and three more states banned the product. The Maggi mess also spread to other countries with Singapore following in Nepal’s footsteps and stopping import and sale of the noodles while the UK’s food safety agency decided to test a few samples.
Nestle’s global chief executive Paul Bulcke flew down to India on a firefighting exercise, telling a news conference the Swiss company maintains the same standards for its products across the world and that the lead content in Maggi is well below the prescribed limit.
“We decided to take the noodles off shelves as there was confusion about safety. The safety of our consumers is paramount. We are working with the authorities to clear up this confusion,” Bulcke said.
“Our studies showed no lead or MSG in 1,035 tests … We have been carrying out tests on multiple batches and all results indicate Maggi noodles are safe for consumption,” he added.
Nestle India also filed a petition in the Uttarakhand high court against a state government ban on the manufacture of Maggi at its factory in Pantnagar.
Maggi Controversy: How does that excess lead impact your health?
Nestle India has been under fire over the past fortnight with at least eight states banning Maggi after finding dangerously high levels of lead and the presence of flavour-enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) in the snack that is hugely popular all the way from street-side stalls in coastal Kerala to the mountains of Ladakh.
As the controversy snowballed, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India said on Friday it had found nine variants of Nestle’s Maggi noodles “unsafe and hazardous” for human consumption and had asked the company to stop their production, import and sales with immediate effect. It also directed Nestle India to rectify and comply with labelling regulations.
The order to Nestle said the regulatory body had found three major violations: lead levels in excess of the permissible limit, misleading ‘No added MSG’ labels on the packaging, and the release of Maggi Oats Masala Noodles without conducting risk assessment or product approval.
“The company contended testing protocols had not been complied with, that the ‘No added MSG’ label was fixed on account of lack of clarity and in accordance with industry practices,” the Union ministry of health and family welfare said in a statement.
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.
(With agency inputs)