National food regulator FSSAI, which came into prominence some five months ago with its ban on Maggi
noodles, is back in news. Within days of the 2-minute snack getting relaunched across 100 cities and towns, FSSAI
had moved the Supreme Court.
With little clarity on what the appeal was all about, several news reports said the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India had challenged the Bombay High Court
order allowing Swiss food major Nestle
to relaunch Maggi
noodles. Had that been true, it would have turned into a major development—the food regulator, which falls under the Union health ministry, was once again taking on a multinational while the government was out to attract international investors.
But a few phone calls later, the script of the story had changed completely on Monday evening. FSSAI
had indeed moved the apex court, but not to challenge the Bombay High Court
order allowing lifting of the ban. As a government official pointed out, the FSSAI
petition in the Supreme Court
was linked to the Maggi
case, but not linked to its relaunch. In other words, the food regulator was not asking for yet another ban on Maggi
Why then did FSSAI
choose another court outing, after fighting Nestle
in the Bombay High Court
for some months and then losing to the largest food company of the world? ‘’The food regulator’s appeal in the Supreme Court
is out of a sense of honour,’’ pointed out an official tracking the matter. FSSAI
wants the SC to quash certain imputations in the Bombay High Court
order about the motives behind the ban, the official explained. Technically speaking, the regulator has moved Supreme Court
on two counts—to seek expunging of certain adverse remarks made by the Bombay High Court
officials on their ability to test food products; and to appeal against the move to de-accredit food testing labs.
Among the Bombay HC remarks that FSSAI
may have seen as adverse was ‘’in fact, the entire sequence culminating in imposition of ban on June 5, 2015, by respondent no. 2 (then FSSAI
CEO Yudhvir Malik) shows that there is something more than meets the eye….’’ Also, ‘’it appears that respondent no. 2 is also influenced by extraneous considerations….’’ The court also said ''principles of natural justice'' and procedures were not followed before imposing the ban. The respondent no. 2 (Malik) has since been shifted from the FSSAI
to Niti Aayog.
As courts routinely make observations, many of which are adverse, FSSAI’s fight to reclaim its honour is getting more than noticed. Perhaps, as much as it was noticed when it had ordered pan-India ban on Maggi
noodles in June over the presence of monosodium glutamate and excessive lead content even before half the states of India had submitted the results of sample tests. The controversy only got larger when many of the international food regulators gave a clean chit to the product in their respective countries while FSSAI
stuck to its ban.