Days before Maggi row, regulator expressed concern over food companies’ misleading claims

  • Hitender Rao, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jun 08, 2015 09:04 IST

Days before Nestle’s instant noodle brand ‘Maggi’ was caught up in safety issues, forcing the multi-national food giant to take the product off the shelves, the country’s central food safety regulator had sought to explain why allowing self-regulation by food companies was still a distant possibility in the country.

In a public communiqué released on May 11, the chief executive officer of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), YS Malik, wrote that misleading claims and advertisements by food business operators (FBOs) were galore but that one had yet to see “any visible signs of self-regulation”.

Malik’s assertions were made in the light of food industry’s anguish regarding product approvals by FSSAI and their consistent push for self-regulation instead.

“We often find it convenient to make references to and draw parallels with US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) or European Union regulatory system, little realising that self-regulation is rather compelling in those economies, thanks to a very conscious and aware consumer base coupled with an effective and responsive legal system. Conversely, our consumer is much less aware and largely gullible and we carry the constraints of our legal system,” the food regulator wrote.

In the communiqué, the FSSAI’s chief executive officer said most of the FBOs, especially the aggrieved ones, appeared to be swearing by Prime Minister’s Make in India initiative while conveniently forgetting that it is also accompanied by the words “zero defect” and “zero effect”.

“The extent of unilateral condemnation of a sector regulator by the people, whom it is meant to regulate, has been unprecedented for some time in the past. Reasons could be very large, which I may like to share some-time in future in an open house with the industry,” Malik wrote.

“Accepting the position or presence of a regulator in a hitherto largely unregulated environment is difficult. Based on what one has seen till now, I am sure that the day FSSAI is able to emerge as an effective enforcement agency, issues like product approvals will become non issues,” he wrote.

The CEO said the quality of applications for product approvals left a lot to be desired. “I have perused a large number of applications submitted for product approvals and shown a few to some of the aggrieved FBOs,” Malik wrote, adding that the response of FBOs was mixed.

“Some of them conceded that they were not aware of the details required to be submitted for safety and risk assessment, while others apportioned the blame to their staff who committed silly mistakes. Others said that they needed proper advisory support," the food regulator said.

Nestle’s violation

While issuing a show-cause notice to Nestle India as to why the product approval granted for instant noodles with tastemaker be not withdrawn, the food safety regulator has pointed out three major violations

· Presence of lead detected in excess of the maximum permissible levels of 2.5 parts per million (ppm)

· Misleading labelling information on the package reading - no added mono sodium glutamate (MSG)

· Release of a non-standardized food product in the market -Maggi Oats Masala Noodles with tastemaker without risk assessment and grant of product approval.

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