Nestle Noodle Controversy Fanned by Regulators’ Opposing Views

Nestle SA’s Maggi noodles imported from India are safe for consumers to eat and don’t carry hazardous levels of lead, the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency said, leading analysts to question why Indian regulators banned them.

All of the products tested were well within the levels permitted by the European Union, the agency said in a statement Wednesday. It collected 900 samples, including masala-flavored noodles imported from India, and others from the Maggi range.

Clearances by regulators in countries such as the U.K. and Singapore are leading analysts to question why there’s a discrepancy with the findings of India’s food regulator. Nestle, the world’s largest food company, recalled its products in that market after authorities said they found samples that had excessive lead content. Nestle has maintained that its products are safe.

“We were surprised to see that in Singapore, one of the strictest countries with regard to food safety, the Maggi noodles imported from India were cleared,” said Jean-Philippe Bertschy, an analyst at Bank Vontobel AG in Zurich.

Yudhvir Singh Malik, chief executive officer of India’s federal food regulator, didn’t return an e-mail seeking comment and calls put through to his office were unanswered. Australian and New Zealand regulators have also cleared Maggi noodles, Robin Tickle, a spokesman for Nestle, said by e-mail.

Expired Noodles

The samples tested in Singapore and the U.K. may not relate to the same batches tested in India, according to Robert Waldschmidt, an analyst at Liberum Capital in London. The Indian authorities first demanded a recall of one batch after testing samples that were past their sell-by date, Nestle said May 21. The company said that batch was already out of the market and the noodles it was selling were safe.

Lead contamination could arise due to pollution, which is prevalent in India, though the differing opinions of regulators raises the question if the Indian authorities weren’t operating partly for political reasons, Waldschmidt said.

“I’m not saying there wasn’t any contamination, but it feels to me like it was blown out of proportion, perhaps to make a point,” he said.

Singapore’s food regulator said June 8 its own tests deemed Maggi noodles safe to consume. A court in India ruled Tuesday that Nestle could start exporting the noodles.

India’s food regulator is also investigating whether chocolate makers have been using vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter, Bloomberg TV India reported earlier Wednesday, citing unidentified officials. Indian food regulations prohibit that.

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