Nestle India Drops Most in 9 Years on Reports of Tainted Noodles

Nestle India Ltd. tumbled the most in nine years on reports alleging its Maggi noodles may contain high levels of lead and chemicals.

The controversy erupted when authorities in Uttar Pradesh state said they found high levels of the heavy metal in some batches of the noodles in April. Now, that has spread to the rest of the country. Officials in at least six states have ordered independent testing of the products, while Kerala told its state-run outlets to temporarily stop selling the food, the Press Trust of India reported yesterday.

Shares of the local unit of the Vevey, Switzerland-based food maker, plunged 7.7 percent to 6,282 rupees as of 11:04 a.m. in Mumbai, and were set for their steepest drop since June 2006.

Nestle spokesman Himanshu Manglik was unreachable on his mobile phone and did not immediately respond to an e-mailed questionnaire. The most recent comment from Nestle India was a statement on June 1, which said it was cooperating with local authorities, and that tests on batches representing about 125 million packets of noodles showed lead levels to be “well within” allowed limits.

Delhi’s government yesterday said that lab tests done on 13 samples of Maggi found that 10 of them were “unsafe” for consumption as they contained lead in excess of the maximum permissible 2.5 parts per million, PTI reported.

Bollywood Ambassadors

Maggi noodles are a mainstay in northern India, featuring routinely on menus in restaurants and food stalls.

A court in Bihar also ordered the government to file a criminal complaint against Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Preity Zinta, who endorsed the brand, Zee News television channel reported today. The order resulted from a complaint filed by a lawyer who claimed to have fallen sick after consuming a pack of noodles.

Separately, authorities in southern Tamil Nadu state said yesterday they were examining a complaint filed by a customer who allegedly found live rice weevils and larvae inside a pack of Nestle baby milk powder.

The company is “making every effort to obtain the information we need in order to investigate this consumer complaint,” Manglik said in an e-mail on Tuesday in response to a query about this case.

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