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THE MAGGI ISSUE

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) collected samples of Maggi noodles to test for the presence of Lead (scientific name Plumbum (Pb)) and MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) and found the samples unfit for human consumption. Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra were one of the first states to report that Maggi contained Lead and MSG beyond permissible limit. Lead exposure is known to be harmful and MSG is a flavour enhancer, commonly added in Chinese food, also harmful. MSG, in India, is also known by the name of Ajinomoto. Ajinomoto is a Japanese company which has been manufacturing it for over 100 years.

According to Nestle, the authorities’ tests may have detected glutamate, which occurs naturally in many foods and that in its routine testing, it never found Maggi containing more than 0.003 ppm of lead. (The difference between MSG and glutamate has been highlighted below.)

Now, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs is preparing a case against Nestle on this issue. It will be filed in the National Consumer Forum. The Ministry will seek damages from the Nestle for selling an unsafe product, adopting unfair trade practices and running misleading advertisements. This case will be the first of its kind. According to Section 12(d) of Consumer Protection Act 1986, the government can file a complaint in NCDRC (National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission) in its individual capacity or as a representative of interest of consumers in general.

Section 12(d): A complaint in relation to any goods sold or delivered or agreed to be sold or delivered or any service provided or agreed to be provided may be filed with a District Forum by the Central Government or the State Government, as the case may be, either in its individual capacity or as a representative of interests of the consumers in general.

The Consumer Protection Act 1986 (bare Act)

According to Section 14(hb) of the Consumer Protection Act, the accused can be directed by the forum “to pay a sum as may be determined by it [forum], if it is of the opinion that loss or injury has been suffered by a large number of consumers who are not identifiable conveniently.” The amount payable shall not be less than 5% of the value of the defective goods sold to such customers.

In case the affected consumers cannot be identified, the law provides that this amount shall be credited to the Consumer Welfare Find where it can be used for the welfare of consumers and even for reimbursing legal expenses incurred by a complainant, or class of complaints in a consumer dispute.

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs has finalized an amendment to the Consumer Protection Act that includes a “product liability” clause. It will keep a check on the errant manufacturers and vendors. The product liability clause states that the vendor or manufacturer will have to compensate for injury or damage caused to a consumer by a defective product or deficiency in service.

As of now, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to adhere to the quality it had declared while getting the approval. FSSAI will initiate a change in guidelines wherein the manufacturer will have to take their products to the approved laboratories every 6 months and submit the reports to the regulator.

Lead and its harmful effects Lead Poisoning is also known as Plumbism, Colica Pictorum, Saturnism, Devon Colic or Painter’s Colic. In humans and other vertebrates, increased levels of the heavy metal (lead) impacts many organs and tissues including heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, reproductive and nervous systems.

RAJESH NAYAK

Lead is especially deleterious for children in developing years as it causes anemia, kidney failure and permanent behavioural and learning disorders. Signs and symptoms of lead poisoning: abdominal pain, confusion, headache, anemia, irritability, seizures, coma and death. Lead poisoning can occur via contaminated air, water, soil, food and consumer products like Maggi. Ban on leaded petrol was imposed because of this reason. The paints used for houses also contain lead, thereby, leading to the name Painter’s Colic. The prescribed maximum limit of lead is 2.5 ppm (parts per million). Higher concentration can lead to lead poisoning (Painters Scolic). It can lead to anaemia, abdominal pain, heart palpitation, etc. Long term exposure can lead to organ failure too. Symptoms of Lead Poisoning (Source: Wikipedia)

MSG (Mono-Sodium Glutamate) and its harmful effects Glutamic acid is an amino acid which is found in abundance in plant and animal protein. Glutamate is glutamic acid to which a mineral ion has been attached. MSG is a glutamate that has been produced out of the human/animal body. An amino acid manufactured by artificial means is always accompanied impurities. So, MSG will always contain impurities. Naturally occurring non-essential amino acids are found in tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, potatoes, mushrooms, other vegetables and fruits. MSG was first identified in 1866 by Karl Heinrich Ritthausen (German Chemist). It causes discomforts which are collectively known as Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. Chinese Restaurant Syndrome is also known as Monosodium glutamate symptom complex. In April 1968, Robert Ho Man Kwok wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, coining the term “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”. In his letter, he claimed, “I have experienced a strange syndrome whenever I have eaten out in a Chinese Restaurant, especially one that served northern Chinese food. The syndrome, which usually begins 15 to 20 minutes after I have eaten the first dish, lasts for about 2 hours, without hangover effect. The most prominent symptoms are numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, general weakness and palpitations…” Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is produced by fermentation of starch, sugar beet, sugarcane or molasses. It results in serious medical conditions in pregnant women and newborns. If fed to the young, MSG can cause brain damage, reproductive disorders and obesity.

A Brief History of violations and regulations

In 2003, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) raised the issue of pesticides in colas. The then government headed by Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) under Mr. Sharad Pawar to probe the matter.

In 2006, the issue of pesticides in colas was raised again by CSE (Centre for Science and Environment) which made the then Manmohan Singh led government to overhaul the food regulation in India. Thus, the Food Safety & Standards (FSS) Act was formulated and enacted in 2006 itself. Till then, it was governed by the archaic Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954. A series of commodity specific laws were also brought under the purview of the FSS Act e.g. Fruit Products Order (1955), Meat Food Products Order (1973), Milk and Milk Products Order (1992) and the Vegetable Oil Products (Regulation) Order (1998).

RAJESH NAYAK

Five Companies involved in violations:

1. Nestle was accused of using unethical publicity tricks to sell harmful baby milk alternatives as healthy options in developing nations. Nestle, the Swiss based company, won the law suit which led to its boycott in US, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Thus, a new marketing code was developed and Nestle was forced to adopt it in 1984.

2. Burger King is associated with the horsemeat scandal of 2013. One of its beef suppliers had traces of horsemeat.

3. McDonald’s used to add a small amount of beef flavouring to its french fries. In 2001, groups of vegetarians and a few Hindus in the United States led the campaign after which the McDonald’s terminated the practice.

4. Kellogg’s recalled 28 million boxes of Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, Corn Pops and Honey Smacks in the US after a harmful substance leaked into the packages.

5. Quaker Oats is owned by PepsiCo. In 2001, Quaker Oats conducted an experiment with MIT on mentally ill children which dealt with radioactive oatmeal and its side effects.

Nestle has 8 manufacturing facilities in India:

1. Choladi, Tamil Nadu

2. Samalkha, Haryana

3. Nanjangud, Karnataka

4. Ponda, Goa

5. Nanjangud, Karnataka (Maggi)

6. Bicholim, Goa (Maggi)

7. Pantnagar, Uttarakhand (Maggi)

8. Tahliwal, Himachal Pradesh (Maggi)

9. Moga, Punjab (Maggi)

RAJESH NAYAK