Latest test reports of Maggi noodles were Tuesday presented before the Supreme Court, which had directed a laboratory in Mysore to examine afresh 16 samples of Nestle India’s popular snack for presence of lead and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
However, less than a week before the hearing in the top court, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued a notification stating that a food business operator will not be prosecuted for presence of Monosodium glutamate (MSG) in their products.
The food regulator has claimed it cannot be scientifically established whether MSG, a popular preservative and flavour enhancer, was added by a manufacturer or it was naturally present in a product. The FSSAI also contended that the only manner to prove addition of MSG is “through inspection” of the manufacturing units.
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The March 31-notification by the food regulator further mandated that no prosecution should be launched unless it is proved that MSG has been added by a manufacturer but the labels on the food packets state otherwise.
Therefore, no operator will henceforth be prosecuted if the labels are silent regarding the presence of MSG. Further, in cases where MSG is found in a food article, it would have to be first ascertained through physical “inspection” of the manufacturing premises whether MSG was added and then a prosecution could be launched only where the labels claim absence of MSG.
Speaking to The Indian Express, FSSAI chairman Ashish Bahuguna said that the notification has nothing to do with Maggi and that the tussle between them and Nestle India was over the presence of lead in its popular noodle.
“Currently the question of whether the product contained lead above permissible limits or not is the one in which trial is on. The MSG order has no bearing on Maggi or any other pasta or noodles brand. It is merely a direction to enforcement officers,” Bahuguna said.
But Bahuguna’s explanation is contrary to what the Consumer’s Affairs Ministry had claimed before the National Consumer Commission while filing a class action suit, demanding Rs 640 crore as damages from Nestle.
In its complaint, the Department of Consumer Affairs had not only accused Nestle of a misleading label stating “No added MSG” on Maggi but had also asserted that “MSG is a known allergen and can be detrimental for the brain.”
Underlining that MSG’s adverse effects are the most profound in children and pregnant women, the parent ministry of the FSSAI had said: “Glutamic acid can penetrate the placental barrier and cause hindrances in the normal development of a fetus. The blood brain barrier in young children is also not fully developed to protect against toxins such as MSG that enter the blood from entering the brain,” the government had said.
A prime reason for moving the class action suit, the Department had said, was that Nestle “sold defective goods to the public by selling Maggi noodles with the presence of MSG which is not permissible.”
The complaint cited a body of international research reports that linked consumption of MSG with obesity and metabolic defects, part from being a trigger of asthma and causing headaches and subsequently reported pericranial muscle tenderness.
It added that “despite the harmful effects of MSG, Nestle misled the public by stating that the Maggi noodles have ‘no added MSG’. Thus the product, far from being healthy, is in fact injurious and hazardous and still the Opponent at all material times, invariably, projected it as a health product”.
Moreover, on October 15, the government’s Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain had requested the National Consumer Commission to order for testing Maggi samples for presence of MSG as well after controverting Nestle’s claim that no purpose will be served by analysing the samples for MSG since it could be naturally present too.
On Tuesday, FSSAI’s appeal against the Bombay High Court order of lifting the ban against Maggi as also Nestle’s appeal against the class action suit came up for hearing in the apex court.
A bench led by Justice Dipak Misra directed for supplying copies of the lab reports to counsel for all the parties and adjourned the matter for hearing in July.