Troubles of Nestle India are unlikely to be over soon, as the government on Monday sought further testing of 31 batches of its popular Maggi instant noodles at an accredited laboratory to check safety of consumption.
A bench headed by Justices VK Jain may pass an order on the proposed testing on Tuesday. It has also asked the government to identify an accredited lab where such testing could be done.
The government told the apex consumer forum, which is hearing its Rs 640-crore class action suit against Nestle India, that it would like to test 31 more samples of Maggi instant noodles.
“We have identified 31 samples from different batches in a Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) godown, which we would like to test and videograph the proceedings,” additional solicitor general Sanjay Jain said.
“This class action suit is not just about the lead and monosodium glutamate contents. It is about the government representing consumers of the country regarding mislabelling, misbranding and other unfair trade practices resorted to by Nestle,” the lawyer added.
However, Nestle opposed any further testing claiming that it was uncalled for and that the court did not have jurisdiction to allow it.
Nestle India requested the court that they wait until the report of the earlier testing was presented and any further testing may be based on the findings in that report.
“The government is asking for further testing in the hope that they can get something against us. There are 3,500 reports from all over that have given us a clean chit. The three labs under the Bombay HC’s directive also handed us a clean record. Any further testing will bring us back to where we started. We consented to the earlier testing of samples which were their own but they are still not happy,” senior counsel Iqbal Chagla representing Nestle India argued.
“Considering Maggi noodles is back in the market after it has passed necessary tests as mandated by the Bombay HC, what is the need for fresh tests,” he asked, while criticising the fact that in a case like this, where the interest of thousands of consumers was being represented by the government, it was surprising to see that not a single consumer had come up with a complaint.
If NCDRC orders another round of tests, it could affect the consumers who are purchasing the product and raise questions, he added.
Tests were conducted on October 15 on 13 samples of Maggi noodles from nine batches on a request by the government’s counsel. These samples were sent to the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysuru, Karnataka, though the test results haven’t been presented before the apex consumer court yet.
The class action suit was filed by the government, accusing the company of unfair trade practices. The firm’s failure to disclose the presence of risk-increasing ingredients was deceptive and misleading, the complaint filed through the consumer affairs department said, while accusing Nestle India of promoting noodles containing excessive lead as healthy with the sole aim of enhancing profits.
After a five-month ban on its Maggi instant noodles by the national food watchdog Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, Nestle relaunched its product in the market on November 9.
An Uttar Pradesh government order recalling Maggi noodles for containing excessive lead in May triggered a chain reaction across the country. In June, the company announced withdrawal of the Maggi noodles, incurring a one-time removal cost of Rs 451.6 crore. A day later, FSSAI ordered the company to recall its products. Nestle India later withdrew about 30,000 tonnes of popular instant noodles from the market.