HC exposes food regulator's farce

"The FSSAI tests were vitiated and the results, unreliable."

The Bombay High Court’s revocation of the ban on Nestle’s Maggi noodles exposes the utterly casual attitude and worse of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in the testing of food articles and taking action based on the tests. The court’s order and observations are an indictment of the food regulator on many counts, as it found that the FSSAI action was unjustified, its methods were illegal and the procedures wrong. The FSSAI, headed by CEO Y S Malik, had banned the popular snack on the claim that it was “hazardous and unsafe for human consumption’’, as some tested samples allegedly had high levels of lead. But the court has found that the FSSAI action violated the principles of natural justice, because Nestle was not issued a notice or given a
hearing. It turns out the action was unilateral. 

Worse, the court found that the tests done by the FSSAI were vitiated and the results were unreliable. It noted that the samples were not collected in accordance with the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act and the due procedure prescribed in the Act was not followed. The testing was not done at accredited laboratories. In fact, there was wide variation and even a contradiction in the results with tests in some states finding the samples safe and others finding them unsafe. The court also questioned the FSSAI why all variants of Maggi were banned when the tests found only three variants unsafe, and why it went in for the ban when Nestle had recalled the packets from the market. The answers and explanations were not convincing.

It is a matter of serious concern that the national food regulator could act so irresponsibly. If it banned a food item on the basis of unreliable tests and following wrong procedures, it could also allow unsafe food to be sold and distributed. It should be noted that Maggi produced in India was found safe in Singapore, the UK, the US and other countries where the standards are more rigorous, and by CFTRI in Mysuru. The controversy showed that there are no uniform standards of testing in the country. The government, which allowed the FSSAI to take the drastic action, should also share the blame for the scandalous affair. It has damaged the country’s reputation. The shabby treatment of Nestle did not show that the ease of doing business in India has improved in any way. While Maggi has to face the tests ordered by the court, it is the FSSAI which has failed the public and judicial tests for now.

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