By Ruma Dubey
A close acquaintance is ecstatic. She is actually throwing a party. The theme – Maggi Noodles. We do not go dressed as noodles but the only thing on the menu would be Maggi Noodles. She was quick to snap quite a few packets on Snapdeal and later rummaged stores across Mumbai for more packets – in case there is a ban all over again.
Like her, many are actually hoarding Maggi. The question being asked now – why was it banned in the first place? And what has changed now that it back on the shelves?
There is also a huge conspiracy theory being talked about – Reliance wanted to launch its brand of noodles and it “got” the officials to ban Maggi. Some say Ramdev Baba did it. What does that convey about the credibility of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)? Does that mean that this entire ban drama was orchestrated?
Even when FSSAI banned Maggi, many said that it was the best time to buy Nestle on the bourses as Maggi coming back on the shelves was a certainty. That’s the kind of certainty we have when any product in banned in India by an Indian authority. Can we ever say the same thing for the US FDA?
People addicted to Maggi are now celebrating as they are now getting their “fix”. Food safety, which was a hot topic till a couple of months ago, is back to being pushed into the background. But the question remains - who exactly conducts tests to ensure that what we are eating is fit for human consumption. Well, we do have a principal nodal agency - Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSI). Set up in 2008, it deals mainly with adulteration in milk, oil, meat, fruit. It lays down rules and regulations for setting up such manufacturing units and labs, also advising on food safety and nutrition. With such an important role to play, we rarely hear of FSSI; in fact we are more familiar with US FDA than our very own FSSI.
Plagued with the general lackadaisical attitude which pans almost all Govt agencies, this one faces acute manpower shortage, outdated infrastructure and testing labs. Posts of food inspectors are lying vacant for over three-four years. So when the watchdog itself is not doing its job, why should it be a surprise to see robbers making merry?
India Today had conducted a sting report where a reporter, posing as a manufacturer of some namkeens. He hold the FSSAI officials that his product contained high amounts of lead. He was told he could get the product passed as long as he paid Rs.20,000 per year; it did not matter what the product contained; anything could get approved as long as the right price was paid.
In fact employees at the FSSAI themselves say that getting bogus products cleared and quality ones being failed was an established norm. More shocking was another revelation – the FSSAI can get your competitors product disapproved for a charge of a mere Rs.1 lakh.
Really, under all these circumstances, one cannot help be scared about every single morsel of food that we put in our mouth. When corruption gets so deep rooted that it threatens the life of the population, what is the guarantee for anything?
So Maggi coming back on the shelves should indeed not come as a surprise. What we need to worry about – was there lead earlier and is it there now?
Well, looks like it would be better to skip the Maggi party and mull over all these hard facts of India.