India capital bans Nestle noodles in growing lead scare

NEW DELHI // India’s capital has banned the sale of Nestle instant noodles after safety inspectors found high lead levels in packets of the product in two states.

New Delhi’s health minister announced a 15-day ban on sales of the hugely popular snack on Wednesday, saying that it would give Nestle India time to recall and replace tens of thousands of packets sold in stores throughout the city.

“We have banned the sale of Maggi noodles for 15 days. During this time the company should recall all existing stock and replace it with new stock after all standard checks and procedures,” said Satyendra Jain.

Also on Wednesday, Delhi government officials summoned Nestle to explain the levels of lead, excessive intake of which can cause damage to the kidneys and nervous system.

Meanwhile, stores across the country stepped up voluntary removal of the noodles from their shelves after officials said that higher than permissible lead levels had been found in packets of the product in Delhi and in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The Future Group, the country’s biggest retailer, said Maggi packet noodles were being removed from its 500 stores “as a precaution” until results of tests being carried out nationwide were known.

“In the interest of consumer sentiment and concerns we have taken Maggi noodles off the shelves from all our stores for the time being,” a Future Group spokesperson said.

“We will wait for more clarity from authorities to take any further course of action.”

Stocks of Nestle India, a subsidiary of Swiss-based giant Nestle, dropped more than 11 per cent in trade on the Bombay Stock Exchange before closing down just over 9.0 per cent.

Food inspectors in Uttar Pradesh said late last month that they had found high lead levels in two dozen Maggi noodle packets during routine testing, along with flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate – or MSG – which is not listed in the ingredients.

Last weekend, the state filed a criminal complaint against Nestle India over the findings, while a separate petition was filed against Bollywood stars who have advertised the noodles.

Nestle India was not immediately available for comment on the ban in Delhi.

However, in a statement on its website the company said extensive tests conducted in its own laboratory of almost 1,000 batches of noodles, and independent analysis of a further 600 batches, found that all were safe to eat.

* Agence France-Presse