Wednesday 3 June 2015

Is Nestlé the only culprit?

Nestlé S.A. is a Swiss multinational food and beverage company headquartered in Vevey, Switzerland. It is the largest food company in the world measured by revenues and ranked #72 on the Fortune Global 500 in 2014. (Source: Wiki)

One of the most popular product in Nestlé’s portfolio, Maggi Noodles came under scanner in India. An officer from state of U.P food safety & drug administration ordered tests on over a dozen samples of instant noodles. Nestle claims that the product does not contain Monosodium Glutamate (Popularly known as MSG: Used for enhancing the taste). Gorakhpur lab & Kolkata lab (Considered to be among the best in country for food testing) found the samples to be positive for MSG. In addition Kolkata lab also reported the samples to be containing dangerously high levels of lead content. Lab reported 17.2 ppm of lead in the sample. According to food safety regulation norms in India permissible lead content ranges between 0.2 ppm to 10 ppm depending on product categories. Instant Noodles falls under a category with a limit of lead restricted at 2.5 ppm.

Instant noodles are identified under food category code 6.4.3, which includes “pre-cooked pastas and noodles and like products” that are “pre-gelatinized, heated and dried prior to sale”. These categories of food are governed by Codex international standard 249, standards of food safety recognized by WHO. The masala used in these noodles is identified in code 12.2, which includes herbs, spices, masalas, seasonings, and condiments (eg. seasoning for instant noodles), where the use is “intended to enhance the aroma and taste of food”, according to FSSAI regulations.

Controversies are not new to Nestlé. In 1974 Mike Muller wrote an article for War on want called “The baby killer”. Articles focused on impact of alternative introduced by Nestlé for breast feeding the newborn babies. Swiss court on the basis of the report, warned Nestlé that if the company did not want to face accusations of causing the infant deaths or illness, should change the way they do the business & not to use unethical sales practices. Following the report Nestlé products were boycott across Europe, UK & US. The campaign also garnered support from health authorities & medical professionals in developing nations. Momentum gathered by this even lead to 1981 formation of code of conduct to govern sale & promotion of products substituting breast milk.  

Mike Muller has been consistently active against companies which are purely money minded & does not care towards the health of people.

In one of the recent articles Muller posed an important question. Though this was not applicable to just Nestlé as a single company but to the entire industry. While in 1970’s challenge was high child mortality rates, malnutrition, quality of water, in today’s times issues have been replaced with obesity, diabetes & heart diseases. Back in 70’s industry was accused of harming the health of the babies. Now it has raised to a level of harming the entire nation. In either cases issues about the food industry’s responsibilities remain unchanged.

UN’s current millennium goals are due to expire in 2015. In such case, question of importance is should the sustainable goals focus on unsustainable & unhealthy lifestyle of riches or on the plight for the basic needs of the poor? Also, should UN actively engage with global food giants to control products & marketing to improve people’s health. For answers to these questions we will have to wait & see until we discover/ invent machines that can take us to future.

This article is not intended towards the questions raised at Nestlé but towards the general issues relating to the food industry.

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