Grown up on Maggi instant noodles, it was shocking to hear that my favourite food brand had 17 times higher levels of lead than permissible. The report came out after a surprise check by a food inspector in UP. Thereafter many other states did the testing. A few states did found elevated level of lead others did not. Government outlets in several states have withdrawn Maggi from their shelves. A nation wide ban is being contemplated.
Findings have generated a countrywide debate about abysmal state of food safety in India, with brunt being borne by Nestle India, the maker of Maggi. Obvious question is since how long Maggi has been contaminated with lead?
- Maggi instant noodles was introduced to Indian market in 1982.
- For more than 30 years innumerable number of Indians have consumed Maggi, many times more than a billion plates have been served.
- According to reports, in 2014 alone more than 100 billion servings of Maggi noodle was consumed globally.
- Has there been any documented case of lead poisoning related to consumption of Maggi been reported?
Without diluting the seriousness of the observation, given Maggi is targeted to attract children, it is important to monitor at random samples of packaged food for the veracity of their content. It is important to understand that consumption of food laced with lead may have serious consequences on health and well being of children as well as adults. Obvious questions that emerge are:
- What has administrators at food safety and standards authority of India - FSSAI, been doing till now?
- Inspite of the poor state of our food quality administration, it will be surprising that nobody has picked up samples at random for analysing veracity of claim made on the package?
- This may indicate either incompetence or corruption, in case some official has suppressed or altered findings of adverse report for personal gratification.
- Either scenario is inexcusable and guilty must be held accountable in food safety administration.
Maggi noodles by Nestle India has captured 70% of Rs. 4000 crore market that is growing rapidly. It is unlikely, Nestle India would deliberately add lead into its lucrative brand that is minting money. Question arises, did Nestle India has wilfully lowered its manufacturing standards given lax and or inadequate food safety regulation in India?
- Is the manufacturing practice followed by Nestle India is less stringent compared to that practiced in EU or USA?
- Nestle has several manufacturing plants in India. One in Himachal Pradesh, one in Goa, one in Punjab.
- Is Nestle India not following good manufacturing practice in all its manufacturing plants in India?
- Given no one will knowingly add lead, it is important to know the source of lead contamination. Are they not employing an identical source to procure ingredients to manufacture their products.
- Is our ground water the culprit for lead contamination?
Experts, like Deepa Bhajekar, have also expressed doubt of assay method employed by different states. Some labs have analysed sachet containing spicing agent alone and found high lead content. Other labs have assayed noodles plus sachet content together and found lead levels to be in permissible limits. It is important to
- streamline assay methods,
- streamline and quality check of raw materials and
- government agencies must undertake comprehensive analysis of all food products.
While we jump upon maggi noodle and Nestle India, because they are big brands, we must look at other snacks that we regularly consume. Many of them are fried on metal skillet at high temperature. There is every possibility that oil is rancid plus oil has extracted heavy metal from the container. The debate on lead content of maggi noodles should be used as a springboard to revamp our food safety regulations. Time we wake up to contamination of our food, fruits, vegetables and drinking water.
Tags: Deepa Bhajekar, Food Safety, Fruits, FSSAI, Good Manufacturing Practice, Lead, Maggi Noodles, Nestle India, Testing, Water, Vegetable