By Abhishek Jha:
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore has allowed India manufactured Maggi to be sold in markets, reports said, after it declared it to be free of health risks. While Nestle has hired APCO Worldwide for rebuilding its image and is seeking a judicial review and revocation of the orders of food safety regulators banning Maggi in Maharashtra , it was interesting to note a Wall Street Journal article highlighting what the United States’ FDA found in Indian snacks.
Some number crunching done by WSJ found that “half of all the snack products that were tested and blocked from sale in the U.S. this year were from India. Indian products led the world in snack rejects last year as well.” FDA’s import refusal report which lists among other things the name of the manufacturer, the place of manufacturing, and the charge(s) for refusal, is likely to ruffle snacks consumers in India if the response to the Maggi fiasco is anything to go by. While Haldiram’s snack products had the highest refusals among snack products between January and March 2015, Bikaji, Bikanervala Foods Pvt. Ltd., Jhaveri Industries of Badshah Masala fame, Hindustan Unilevers Ltd., Britannia, MDH Ltd., Adani Food Products Pvt. Ltd., Heinz Pvt. Ltd., and Mother Dairy are some of the popular manufacturers whose products- ranging from whole grain, bakery products, and snack food items to spices, flavors and salts were refused by the FDA. Some of these products had a labeling problem or did not mention their ingredients properly, while others contained pesticides, were sometimes charged as simply “FILTHY”. Some of these were rejected for containing Salmonella – whose permissible limit in India too, as per Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, is very small – which Mayo Clinic says can cause “diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within eight to 72 hours.”
A high concentration of lead can cause serious troubles and authorities are always likely to crack down on lead exceeding permissible limits. However, the case of MSG is different. It is usually considered safe (although it can lead to health problems in the long run) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has limits prescribed for it (in the list of permissible limits of MSG) only for table olives and frozen fish fillets. That’s why perhaps the FSSAI, Bengaluru Centre, is confused whether to suggest a ban because it found lead content to be well within the permissible 2.5 ppm. Maggi defended itself by saying that it does not add MSG, although naturally occurring MSG might be present. An Economic Times article said, and it appears, that FSSAI had only “admonished the company for labeling the pack with the line ‘No added MSG'”.
However Maggi fares in the long run, we Indians do need to discuss what the implications of our fast food and snack habits can be. It is already said in media that big multinationals adhere to the strict regulations of developed countries while food products containing contaminants or excessive additives are shipped to developing countries. Take for instance MSG, which is popularly known as ajinomoto. It is a flavor enhancer and can make inferior quality food taste better. There is profit to be made there and it is probably being made, that too, at the risk of the health of the people of developing countries. “Chinese” and other foreign noodles are already being smuggled to the North Eastern states, a report in the Hindu said.
It is imperative then that regulatory bodies buckle up. Limiting this to Maggi or Nestle would be a short-sighted measure and would hardly do anything for the general health of the nation. A senior-vice president at Haldiram’s defended his company saying that “a pesticide that is permitted in India may not be allowed there (the U.S.)”. But given the response to MSG in Maggi, perhaps the regulatory bodies may want to re-consider what they allow and what they don’t in our food. Pesticides have no business inside human bodies whether Indian or American.