Maggi samples from other states are being tested (file photo)
Nestle India is at the centre of a controversy over its Maggi brand of instant noodles, with food safety inspectors in Uttar Pradesh filing a criminal complaint over the high levels of lead they allegedly found in some packets. Nestle disputes the findings, but the authorities have warned that the Bollywood stars who endorse the product may also face legal action.
Maggi noodles, which sell at Rs. 10 ($0.16) per single-serving packet, are a popular snack and the brand has long been the market leader in India.
The Uttar Pradesh Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had ordered a recall of a 200,000-pack batch of noodles at the end of April, after a spot check which it said showed elevated levels of monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancer, and lead 17 times above the permissible limit.
Nestle India, whose parent is Swiss company Nestle SA, said it had shared with the authorities test results that conclude its noodles are safe to eat.
"We regularly monitor all our raw material for lead, including testing by accredited laboratories which have consistently shown levels in Maggi noodles to be within permissible limits," Nestle said in a statement.
The company said the batch in question was reportedly manufactured in February 2014 and was already past its sell-by date in April this year. It said the batch would have been automatically collected from retailers by the time the inspectors announced a recall of the products.
The criminal complaint was filed at a local court in Barabanki, about 30 kilometres east of the state capital Lucknow, and a hearing has been set for July 1.
A local FDA official told Reuters that as well as Nestle India the complaint included the manufacturing unit, the retailer selling the tainted packs, two Nestle managers and even Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta for promoting the two-minute snack.
Bachchan no longer endorses Maggi, but Dixit and Zinta are the current brand ambassadors. The three stars have also been named in an FIR by a local advocate in Uttar Pradesh.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is reportedly testing more Maggi samples from other states.
“Testings are being done. Some reports are expected today and within 2-3 days we will get complete reports," Consumer Affairs Additional Secretary G Gurucharan told PTI.
When asked if action would be taken against Maggi brand ambassadors, he said: "Yes, they would be liable for action if advertisements are found to be misleading."