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    Good Afternoon and a warm welcome to the Webchat with Shyamal Majumdar, Executive Editor, Business Standard. The subject for the day is "Has the food regulator gone too far in the Maggi Noodles case?"

  • M


    Was the Maggi scam driven by the regulator or did Nestle just become a prey due to such strong brand status? And on the regulators part, how come the product from the same batch and manufactured at the same facility contain different levels of MSG at two different FSSAI labs?


    I think scam is too far-fetched in this case. But the regulator could have handled the case in a more mature way. The Bombay High Court, in its observations actually said it all by saying it was a violation of natural justice and the FSSAI order was arbitrary. Nestle also, I would say, didn't cover itself in glory by being extremely diffident. On the second point of your question, that is something only FSSAI can answer. That to my mind is the crux of the problem

  • V


    Instead of just outright banning of the product, could the food regulator handled the Maggi case differently?


    Absolutely. As the Bombay High Court observed -- Whether FSSAI was justified in imposing a ban on all the nine variants of Maggi though tests were conducted only in respect of three variants and whether such ban orders are arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of Article 14 and 19. The regulator could have easily brought all the stakeholders together and solved the matter through mutual discussions instead of trying to grab headlines by imposing a ban on the product. Food safety is paramount but we don't need to depend on the whims and fancies of a few individuals in positions of power.

  • P


    The Maggi case has bought into limelight variation in results from different testing laboratories. What initiative can the government for testing of foods products?


    The entire process of testing is something that raises a lot of questions. No one doubts the FSSAI's intent but the fact of the matter is execution has been below par. There is a big question mark over the government-identified labs or regulators'labs, there is no proper equipment available and even if equipment is availablem people are not trained adequately

  • N


    Do you think that innovation gets curbed when there is a product approval process by the FSSAI?


    Of course it does. At a time when innovation is the key, the entire product approval process by FSSAI leads to utter confusion and delay. FSSAI has taken on too much when the need is to give some more respect to the intelligence of industry. Which company would come out with unsafe products after putting in thousands of crores of investment? It doesn't make any sense. What is required is an environment of trust and world class labs. What is certainly not required is this culture of second guessing each other. Without all these in place, the law is ahead of its time and India cannot take the high ground.

  • N


    What do you expect from the FSSAI regarding product approval, especially when international markets don't have a designated product approval process?


    Section 22 of FSSA provides that among many categories of foods, proprietary foods cannot be manufactured, save as otherwise provided in the law and the regulation. Proprietary Fods are foods that have no standards laid down in the FSSA but are not unsafe. The regulator has used this provision to introduce what is called a system of Product Approval (PA). The scheme of PA envisages prior consent of the regulator before launch of Proprietary Foods. This consent is given by the regulator after the food is risk-assessed from a safety angle. It is important to mention that Proprietary Foods have been in the statute book for decades and were very much a part of teh earlier legislation whose focus was on prevention of adulteration, It was in the earlier legislation without any provision for prior consent before launch. It would be interesting to check how many instances of unsafe food were detected in the erstwhile regime that led to food recall and conviction. The burden, I think, should be on the manufacturer to ensure that proprietary food is launched only after the manufacturer discharges his share of the burden.

  • S


    Food regulator, FSSAI has taken a decision of testing food samples due to havoc among general people. Do you think this is the right approach?


    Food safety is paramount as it affects all of us. So there can't be any compromise on that issue. No one in his right mind can say we should allow unsafe food. In that sense, FSSAI's approach is the right one. But a modern law can only help to an extent. It has to be complemented by a mindset change and adequate infrastructure in terms of best in class labs. That is sadly missing

  • R


    Sir, do you think we need to give FSSAI the benefit of doubt in this case? After all, we often blame regulators for not protecting the interests of the consumers enough in this country. We also appreciate foreign countries for being strict as far as their food regulations are concerned. So why not see this as a mechanism that will prevent food companies to take the food regulator for granted in future?


    It's an excellent question, Ramesh. As I said earlier, it is grossly wrong to question FSSAI's intent. What is in question is the way the whole thing has been handled. If you read the Food Safety & Standard Act, 2006, it is indeed an excellent piece of legislation. It talks about all the right things -- it talks about science-based standards, risk assessment, risk analysis, risk management, etc. The law is modern and should give consumers enormous comfort. The problem arises when the law is interpreted in a narrow way. I agree we should support our regulators but they also have to move with the times, What was required is implementation of the law that is beneficial to all three stakeholders -- consumer, industry and the regulator. In this case, FSSAi gave the impression that it wants confrontation. That doesn't help anybody

  • K


    Does India have standardized procedures for food testing which manufacturers like Nestle have to adhere? If yes, then why did Nestle fall in trouble now?


    FSSAI became operational in 2011, became the central regulatory authority responsible for food safety in India, under the FSSA, 2006, that consolidated all the existing laws. On paper, India does have standardised procedures for food testing, but in practice, it is not so. But there is a vital point here. FSSA had standards for under 400 articles of food. The variety of foods that exist in the marketplace are, to say the least, a few thousand times more. The regulator has set for itself the task of laying down standards for all those articles of food for which standards do not exist. It has, in some ways, complicated its task by taking a position that it will standardise foods after the product, as against an ingredient in the product, is risk assessed. Globally, the practice is different. Nestle fell into trouble largely because of the hawkish attitude of the regulator but also because of its initial arrogance that most large companies suffer from.

  • A


    Most labs where Maggi has been tested have given a clean chit so what is the government's objection?


    I doubt whether the government itself knows the answer. Everybody is speaking in different voices. The Food Processing Minister gives a public statement that such ban would lead to a climate of fear and uncertainty and a freeze on investment. The Consumer Affairs Minister quotes the PM as saying that nobody should go overboard on the issue. Within a few days, his ministry files a class action suit against Nestle seeking damages to the tune of Rs 640 crore for selling "defective and hazardous"products. And this within a day after the Bombay High Court's scathing observations on the arbitrariness of the regulator's decision. But if you have read media reports about the hearing in the class action suit, the scene becomes clear. The consumer court asked the ministry to explain the unseemly hurry and why the ministry can't wait for the test reports ordered by the High Court. The other question posed by the consumer court was -- As on today, what fresh material do you have to show as the earlier one has been rejected by the HC? It was a real embarrassment for the ministry.

  • M


    What is India's stand on MSG? Is there a permissible limit in which it is allowed?


    The law is that foods with any ingredient that naturally contains MSG can't claim "NO MSG"or No Added MSG on their packaging. MSG cannot be listed as "spices and flavouring". FSSAI found that Maggi was doing inaccurate labelling. many would agree with that, though Nestle has arguments to the contrary. The US FDA has generally classified as safe though it has insisted that it has to be listed as an ingredient on the pack. I think FSSAI had enough merits on this point at least.