Maggi episode reinforces need for upgrading food safety standards
The tests done on Maggi at three government-accredited laboratories — in Hyderabad, Jaipur and Mohali — have vindicated the stand of Nestle chief executive officer Paul Bulcke, who had said at the time of the ban on the fast-food that there was no excessive lead in it.
The laboratories, under instructions from the Bombay high court, found the lead content below the permissible limits in all the 90 samples sent to it. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had banned Maggi in June. However, quashing the ban in August, the court said: “Principles of natural justice have not been followed before passing the impugned order and on that ground alone impugned orders are liable to be set aside, particularly when the petitioner (Nestle India), had given a press release that it had recalled the product …” The court had also said the food labs under the FSSAI were not “authorised” to do the tests.
This gives rise to many worrying problems. If the action of the FSSAI in performing the basic tests has been called into question by the court, it’s time for the government and the minister concerned, Ram Vilas Paswan, to take immediate action. After all it was Mr Paswan who had ordered the tests on Maggi. The UP Food and Drug Administration, the first organisation to raise an alarm over Maggi, on its part also did some tests. And if according to the court the FSSAI labs are not authorised to perform the tests, then who is supposed to do them? Did the FSSAI not do due diligence?
The matter had been referred also to the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. Not much was heard thereafter. Shortly before the quashing of the ban by the court, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly asked his colleagues not to make “unnecessary fuss over the ban” till all the facts came to light. In that case, why was the ban imposed in the first place, more so in view of the fact that Nestle had agreed to recall the Maggi packets?
This paper had said at the time of the ban that India’s entire food chain was toxic and probably it might even be too late now to reverse the trend. After all that has happened since then, it must be reiterated that not only the regulator but also the consumer and manufacturer are made aware of the rules, and the food-testing laboratory infrastructure and skills strengthened and upgraded.