06/04/2015, 00.00
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New Delhi bans the sale of lead-contaminated Nestle noodles

High levels of lead and traces of a flavour enhancer were found in instant noodles. Uttar Pradesh orders the product’s recall from 500 supermarkets. Nestlé’s shares drop in early trading. A petition was filed against Bollywood stars who advertised the noodles. Indian papers slam foreign products.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – New Delhi and Uttar Pradesh have banned the sale of instant noodles made by Maggi, a subsidiary of Nestlé S.A., because higher than permitted levels of lead were found in a number of samples tested.

Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Gujarat and Telangana were among other states conducting tests to prevent potential food safety issues. Indian media slammed the company for betraying India’s goodwill.

“We have banned the sale of Maggi noodles for 15 days. During this time the company should recall all existing stock and replace it with new stock after all standard checks and procedures,” New Delhi’s Health Minister Satyendra Jain said.

The Future Group, the country’s biggest retailer, said Maggi ‘two-minute’ noodles packets were being removed from its 500 stores “as a precaution” until results of tests being carried out nationwide were known.

Food inspectors in Uttar Pradesh said late last month they had found high lead levels in two dozen Maggi noodle packets during routine testing, along with flavour enhancer MSG (monosodium glutamate), which is not listed in the ingredients.

The state last weekend filed a criminal complaint against Nestlé India over the results, whilst a separate petition was filed against Bollywood stars who have advertised the noodles.

From roadside vendors to middle-class kitchens, instant noodles have long been hugely popular in India, with Nestlé a market leader selling millions of the yellow packets.

As a result of the food scare, various states started carrying out tests in conjunction with the federal authorities.

"Samples have been tested from all across the country, we are getting the results one by one," Food and Consumer Affairs Ministry official G Gurucharan was quoted as saying.

"Tests in Delhi showed that 10 out of 13 samples contained lead beyond the permissible limits. Once we have all the results, Nestle India will be given an opportunity to explain”.

High levels of lead can cause damage to kidneys and the nervous system.

Nestle India did not comment on the ban in Delhi; however, the company said that extensive tests conducted in its own laboratory of almost 1,000 batches of noodles, and independent analysis of a further 600 batches, found that all were safe to eat.

Maggi is a big seller in India, with annual sales of about US$ 235 million. Yesterday, the company's shares dropped more than 10 per cent in early trading on the Bombay Stock Exchange following reports about negative lab test results.

Nestlé is not the only foreign multinational present in India. Big foreign supermarket chains, like Carrefour and Walmart, have been allowed in the country since 2012, when controversial economic reforms were approved.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which was in the opposition at the time, led the fight against foreign products.

Now with the noodle scare, things seem to be back to three years ago. In fact, today’s front-pages in Indian newspapers accuse the company of betrayal and buyers of stupidity for believing in the safety of Maggi noodles.

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