ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Noodle Muddle

The essential discussion should be about the poisons in our food chain.

The Maggi Noodles controversy has triggered a much-needed debate on food safety standards in India. Unfortunately, as with most such debates, attention tends to focus on the specifics, in this instance the culpability of the multinational company Nestle in marketing a product that allegedly contained not just monosodium glutamate (MSG) but also contained lead above permissible levels, instead of discussing how and why this happens.

The question of whether Nestle was negligent about the quality of its product, and deliberately mislabelled it as not containing MSG when it apparently did, is still being debated as the tests on the product varied from one government certified laboratory to another. Rather than establish conclusively that its product was safe, the company chose to withdraw it. Yet, the problem is far from resolved and many questions remain unanswered. If, as some laboratory tests proved, the noodles did have higher than permissible levels of lead, how did this happen? Was it through the wrapping, which is outsourced by Nestle to another company, was it due to the water used in manufacturing the product or from the machines used to manufacture it? Apart from the lead, did the company add MSG to the product but claim it did not, knowing India’s lax regulatory regime? Or did the tests show up other types of glutamate that are present in the ingredients but are not necessarily MSG? These are questions that need to be answered as the issue is not just about the culpability of this one multinational but any number of other companies, including Indian companies, that could face similar challenges if their products are tested.

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