NEW DELHI : Even as Nestle’s Global CEO Paul Bulcke flew down to address concerns about its popular instant noodles, India’s food safety regulator FSSAI issued an eight-page order to Nestle India directing it to withdraw all nine approved Maggi variants from the market after they were found to be ‘unsafe and hazardous for human consumption’
Nestle India had announced a temporary withdrawal of the noodles in the wee hours on Friday after various States alleged they had high levels of lead and artificially-added monosodium glutamate (MSG). Even as it issued the recall, however, the company steadfastly maintained that Maggi was “safe for consumption”.
The withdrawal will hit the Indian unit hard. Making matters worse, the company’s troubles spread to Europe on Friday, with the UK’s food safety watchdog announcing that it would test samples of Maggi noodles after noting reports on the issues in India. The Food Standards Agency, however, stressed that the move was a precaution and there were no concerns over the safety of Maggi products sold by Nestle UK.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) gave Nestle India 15 days to explain why its licence should not be withdrawn. It directed the company to rectify the ‘no MSG content’ label and recall ‘Maggi Oats Masala Noodles with Tastemaker’ for which approval had not been given, resulting in violation of Section 22 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
“…the Company is further directed to submit a compliance report … within a period of three days and furnish progress reports on the recall on a daily basis thereafter till the process is completed” the order said.
CEO Bulcke, Nestle India MD and CEO Etienne Benet, Senior Vice-President (Corporate Affairs) Sanjay Khajuria, and two other company officials met with the FSSAI and claimed that testing protocols had not been followed and interpreted correctly. “We have been in India for more than 100 years. …unfounded reasons result in confusion and consumers’ trust in the product was shaken. It’s why we have decided to temporarily take the product off the shelves, in spite of it being safe,” said Bulcke at a press conference.
He insisted that the company does not add MSG to Maggi Noodles in India, as stated on the label.
Bulcke said some ingredients such as groundnut protein, onion powder and wheat flour contain glutamate naturally, and this may have led to the confusion. “We have decided to remove the specific mention ‘No Added MSG’ from the label,” he said.
Bulcke refused to elaborate on the impact the recall would have on Nestle India’s business. “It’s too early to comment on that. I am not worried about the share price falling since it will correct over time. Consumers’ trust is more important,” he said.
He said Nestle India would engage with all stakeholders to clarify the situation and added that State authorities had not shared test results or the methodology with the company yet.
Nestle has moved the Uttarakhand High Court against the State’s three-month ban.
On Friday, Bihar, too, banned Maggi noodles for a month. Neighbouring Nepal has imposed an indefinite ban on Maggi imports, while Reliance Retail removed all 11 instant noodle brands from its 2,621 stores across 200 cities. The company got some consolation when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stated that no objectionable material had been found in samples tested by the State.
Union Health Minister JP Nadda, while asserting that there will be “no compromise on food safety”, said the Government had concluded that Nestle India had not adhered to safety standards.