Clear the air on Maggi controversy

The raging controversy over the safety of the popular “two-minute” Maggi noodles has gripped the attention of the consumers. The issue, in a sense, is unprecedented as never before, a food product, bought by virtually every household in this vast country, has been taken to the cleaners. However, what is important here is that there is no clarity. Several states including Delhi, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand have banned the product as, according to them, it contains lead and monosodium glutamate (MSG) in excess of permissible levels which make them harmful to the human body. Other states like Maharashtra, Goa and Kerala have given it a clean chit and certified that it is safe for consumption. Amidst this, Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestle which makes the product, has categorically stated that Maggi does not contain lead or MSG. Nestle has also questioned the methodology adopted for testing the product.

So, where does that leave the consumer? It is given that no food product with doubtful credentials should ever be sold in the country. At the same time, a product should not be damned for dubious reasons. The consuming public should have access to all information. The authorities including food laboratories and the various governments which have undertaken tests, should immediately publicise the findings in their entirety so that the cobwebs are cleared once and for all. Not just that, the government must come out with a white paper that delineates what was the reason for suspecting the purity of Maggi noodles, the initial test results and whether the contamination was seen across batches or only in certain consignments. Also, how was it that states like Goa, Maharashtra and Kerala gave a clean chit to Maggi noodles, bucking the nationwide trend?
The issue is of great importance especially since successive governments have gone out of their way to invite foreign companies to India. There should be no impression created that Maggi is the target of a witch-hunt as that will act as a deterrent for fresh foreign investment. The government needs to share whatever it has in its possession. The controversy should be viewed as a wake up call. The government must bring in institutional mechanisms that make it mandatory for food products of various kinds to be routinely tested so that if manufacturers err in quality control that can be discovered immediately. In a situation where processed foods are on the rise and instant food products are hugely popular as they save considerable time in the kitchen, it is imperative that the right lessons are learnt for the future from the Maggi controversy.

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