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Nestle India case escalates

News, 01 June 2015

NEW DELHI: A simmering dispute around the safety of Maggi instant noodles has escalated, with court proceedings being filed against brand owner Nestlé India and celebrities involved in their marketing.

Food safety inspectors in Uttar Pradesh have lodged a criminal complaint against Nestlé India after finding excessive levels of lead and monosodium glutamate, a taste enhancer, in a batch of Maggi 2-Minute Noodles.

"The level of lead we found was shocking," said Vijay Bahadur, assistant commissioner for food safety in Uttar Pradesh, in remarks reported by the Wall Street Journal. "In fact, it's life threatening."

Officials in neighbouring Uttarakhand are now also testing samples of the product, according to India Today.

In a separate development, a local advocate has taken out a case against three actors – Amitabh Bachhan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta – alleging that their claims in advertising that the noodles are healthy "amounts to malafide intentions and playing with the health of the kids and young people of the country", The Hindu reported.

The issue first gained attention several weeks ago when the Uttar Pradesh asked Nestle India to withdraw a batch of Maggi noodles after it found monosodium glutamate and high levels of lead in the samples.

Nestlé declined, saying that particular batch had been manufactured in February 2014 and the packs were no longer in the market.

It also took to social media to reassure consumers the product had neither been banned nor recalled. But brand consultants have been critical of an approach involving automated responses and PDF attachments filled with legal argument.

""I think they're being advised badly," said Mahesh Murthy, founder of Pinstorm, a digital brand management firm.

"When someone interacts with a brand online, they expect a human response rather than a robotic one," he told Live Mint, before going on to accuse Nestlé of having "lost the plot" by posting PDF files on Twitter.

"Most Twitter users access it through the phone. Who is going to see a PDF file on their phones?" he asked.

With court cases looming for both the company and the individuals promoting the brand and possible jail terms for officials if the firm is found guilty of breaching food safety laws, Nestlé now faces a crisis that will require more than social media activity to solve.

Data sourced from The Hindu, Live Mint,India Today, Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff