Uncle Nestle, tell us more about Maggi

I am really worried and concerned about your stability and future. Why people are against you after loving and relishing you for over 30 years?

The famous ad line ‘Taste bhi, Health bhi’ made you ever so popular and every home and housewives welcomed you with affection and gratefulness. You were the most cherished item on the kitchen shelf of every home. Many children were addicted to you and used to get agitated if you were missing from the dining table.

Don’t the people who have now battered and banned you know that just last year, you were proudly placed among the Top-5 in Brand Equity’s ‘Most Trusted Brands’ 2014 and Number-1 Most Trusted Food Brand in India? Or is it that Uncle Nestle successfully promoted your popularity through heavy investments in advertisements and hiding some little secrets? I know Uncle Nestle is an honourable man and is globally known for his quality and strict adherence to standards. Therefore, the people of India should know the truth and the whole truth. We should not exclude the conspiracy angle.

I remember the early 1980s, when you first hit the Indian market. The traditional Indian housewife still believed that the best meal is the one where she worked in the kitchen for many hours and prepared a healthy meal with all fresh products and ingredients. The working housewife found it difficult to spare so much time in the kitchen and was looking for some short-cuts without displeasing her husband and children.

Uncle Nestle to his credit then modified you to include atta, oats and other grain and topped it with some veggies, and then generously used the print and electronic media to inform about your new avatar as a delightful healthy food that would be ready in two minutes flat! And it worked. And you became the darling of millions of housewives.

Food safety

People responsible for ‘food safety’ in India would have certainly known your entire composition including traces of permissible ‘glutamate’ and ‘lead’ to make you tasty and lovable. I would like to know what made them suddenly wake up, that too in Uttar Pradesh and subject your body to scanning? Is it that no such scanning was done in earlier years? Is it that the scanning done in previous years certified that you were without blemish? Could it be that the scanning done in different laboratories is faulty? (Because some laboratories have given you a clean chit). Are these various laboratories following the same methodology in performing the tests? Are these tests standardised? Is the quality of these laboratories perfect? Could it be that the contamination takes place during storage which in many places in our country does not conform to international standards?  
The culprits identified by the laboratories concerned which are found to be in excess of permissible limits are monosodium glutamate (MSG); and lead; According to Food Safety and Standards Rules, 2011, MSG, a “flavour enhancer,” should not be added to food for infants below 12 months. I am informed that MSG is not permitted in over 50 items, including “pastas and noodles (only dried products),” but is allowed in the seasoning used for noodles and pastas.

Uncle Nestle through Nestle India has publicly stated that it had tested nearly 1,600 samples of Maggi at internal and external laboratories and found the levels of lead “well within the limits specified by the food regulations.” Nestle India’s official statement also said “We do not add MSG to Maggi Noodles. We use raw materials that may contain naturally occurring Glutamate and which could be confused with commercially produced MSG. Glutamate is safe and is found in everyday and high protein food including tomatoes, peas, paneer (cottage cheese), onions, and milk.”

I feel that the Government of India and Nestle laboratories should share information and coordinate with each other to get to the truth. If the ultimate verdict declares that you harbour either MSG or lead in excess of the permissible limits, then a ban on you dear Maggi, will be justifiable.

If the ultimate verdict is in your favour, then you and Uncle Nestle would have been subjected to grave injustice and the Indian homes needlessly deprived of a healthy and delicious food item. I hope dear Maggi, you are safe. I wish you victory!
Missing you,

Your ardent consumer.

(The writer is a retired Regional Adviser, World Health Organisation)

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