The Food Safety Scare
The recent Maggi Noodles revelation has woken up the masses regarding food safety standards and dangerously high lead levels in the popular snack. On June 5th , Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), India’s apex food regulator, asked Nestle to call back all nine variants of its noodles and to remove the ‘no added MSG’ (monosodium glutamate) labeling. However, the food industry experts are of the opinion that the Maggi controversy is just the tip of the iceberg. The $30 billion Indian package food industry (might increase to $50 billion market share in 2017) is now expected to be closely scrutinized by the government with laws and standards that are already in place.
A study conducted by World Health Organization (WHO) roughly estimates that at least 143,000 deaths are caused a year due to lead poisoning & exposure in food products. The highest numbers of victims of lead poisoning are children, especially from South-east Asian countries. For decades, lead was added to gasoline, but after staunch protests, US banned it as an additive in 1986. Only by 2011, all the nations had stopped using leaded gasoline. However, this heavy toxic material is getting into the air through industrial emissions, car exhaust. Lead-based paints, lead pipes are helping the metal to get into our soil and water. Lead is one of the stubborn contaminant, which can hardly cling to the upper layers of dirt, water, and can also travel far.
USDA (US Food and Drug Administration) has stated that lead cannot be easily removed from food by washing or other such steps. Even if the MNC’s food products are safe & clean, sometimes the food can also be contaminated by the packaging used. Food products like Maggi are manufactured locally, but authorities from FSSAI and other government bodies haven’t visited factories to find the source of lead. Immediately after the noodles controversy, FSSAI has sent thousands of samples across accredited private labs to test for lead, but no tests haven’t been conducted on PVC pipes (and degraded plumbing), which is used in factories to bring in the water. The alarming quantity of lead mainly enters into packaged items through the water gushing out of the eroded pipes.
Globally, European Union is considered to have the highest food standards. Seven out of the 28 EU countries are placed within the top ten spot of 2015Global Food Security Index. US is in the third place (the consumer health watchdog groups are fighting a long battle against food MNC’s). India ranks 79th out of the 109 countries in the index. Bangladesh is the only South Asian country to be placed lower than India. The lack of coherent laws hasn’t caused food safety in India a distant dream. The chief culprit of this lopsided food battle is lackadaisical administration and the lack of political will. Except for the Maggi case, state & central governments are mostly happy to settle for a minimal fine with the corporates, instead of shaming them for abusing food safety norms.
Thousands of controversies are encircling our countries’ food standards, but the problem is that the big expose doesn’t stay long in people’s memory, although it brings a short-term awareness. The derogation of food safety standards, all over the world, wasn’t just induced by a profit-hungry giant corporation; it also lies in our unwise purchasing decisions.