The Food Saftey and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which had issued notice banning Maggi noodles manufactured by Nestle India, on Tuesday urged the Bombay High Court to recall its 'order' allowing the company to export this instant food snack instead of destroying it.
A bench of Justices V M Kanade and B P Colabawalla deferred the hearing to July 17 after asking Nestle India to file an affidavit on an application by FSSAI seeking recall of the June 30 High Court order allowing export of Maggi. The court was hearing a petition filed by Nestle India challenging the order of June 5 passed by FSSAI banning nine variants of the popular instant food snack. It had also questioned a similar order by Maharashtra government prohibiting the sale of the same products on the ground that they were unsafe and harmful for the health of people.
FSSAI Counsel Mahmood Pracha said the food regulatory body had suggested at the last hearing that instead of Nestle destroying the product, the High Court may allow the export of Maggi if the company felt that it was safe for consumption.
However, Nestle was still destroying the product as perhaps it felt that it was not safe (for consumption), he said. The company was manufacturing a fresh batch of product and exporting that, he added.
Elaborating further, he said Nestle was not exporting Maggi which was to be destroyed but it was manfucturing fresh batch of food snack for exports. Certainly, the High Court had not allowed this, he said. They are burning Maggi and thereby destroying evidence, alleged Pracha. "Why is Nestle not exporting the product instead of destroying them?", he said. "We had not asked them to burn Maggi product and instead had suggested that they may export it," FSSAI counsel said.
Senior Counsel, Darius Khambata, appearing for Maharashtra government, said "if they (Nestle) want to manfacture Maggi and sell the product in India then they have to comply with our (Indian) standards.
Pracha also said that FSSAI had sent several e-mails to Nestle seeking details about recalling the product from the market but the company had not given any response. He also complained that the company on its website had written under the caption "Maggi is safe" that the Bombay High Court had allowed exports of the product.
Iqbal Chhagla, Nestle's Counsel, however, denied FSSAI's allegation that the company had declared on website that Maggi was safe and the High Court had allowed exports.
Pracha said Nestle was 'burning' the banned Maggi product because the company knew that no one will buy the snack either in India or outside. "We have issued notice to the company to show cause why Maggi should not be banned." Iqbal Chhagla said that the food regulator was not concerned about the health of people outside India.
The HC had earlier refused to grant relief to Nestle by rejecting its plea for stay of the orders of the food regulator banning nine variants of Maggi noodles. The court was of the view that Maggi products had already been withdrawn by the company from the shops and hence, there was no need to grant a stay on the ban.
The HC had also held that the authorities were entitled to prosecute the company in case of procedural lapses and if they were not satisfied with the reply of Nestle to the food authorities. However, if Nestle was to be prosecuted, the Judges asked the authorities to give 72 hours notice to the company which had filed an appeal against the orders.
In its affidavit, FSSAI justified its June 5 ban on Nestle India's '2-minute Maggi noodles' and questioned the company's safety claims. FSSAI contended that the 'present situation has arisen only because the company has failed to adhere to its own declared policy and principles'.
Barring the fact that Nestle has been manufacturing and selling Maggi for the last 30 years, its other claims of having in place 'strict food safety and quality control at all Maggi factories...' is 'incorrect', the FSSAI affidavit said. "If for the sake of argument it is presumed that all the safety claims regarding its manufacturing activities and processes are true, then the widespread presence of lead, a known poison, in its products can only be presumed to be intentional. It is impossible that such high levels of lead can escape the scrutiny of a reasonably well-equipped laboratory," FSSAI argued.
Nestle submitted that the ban was 'unauthorised, arbitrary, unconstitutional' and had violated principles of natural justice since it was not allowed a proper hearing. FSSAI denied all the contentions and said the company was given a hearing and a notice was issued to Nestle to show cause why its products, which are non-standardised and require government approvals in law, should be approved in future.
"The fact that the petitioners have refrained from filing chart summary test reports and results conducted on Maggi since October 2014 can only create suspicion," it said.