The Maggi Saga and Food Security Standards in India
Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 1439
, Published on 05 June 2015
Maggi, popularly known as 2-minute noodles, is the most popular snack among the kids, youth and even many adults enjoy consuming it. The company that owns Maggi-Nestle was founded in Switzerland in 1872 by Julius Maggi. It is an international brand of soups and noodles and also many other packaged edible commodities. Nestle, or Maggi as it is popularly known enjoys the highest market share of 39% in the noodle segment, with Sunfeast’s Yippie and Top Ramen being its competitors.
Maggi has several variants like Masala Maggi, Atta Noodles and the newly launched Maggi Oats noodles. Post-Liberalization era has seen preference for nuclear families and women empowerment has enabled rise in number of working population of females. Due to this, parents have less time to spend with children or even cook food for them. Under such circumstance, packaged food items have gained preference as it is easy to cook and serve. Hence children become prone to eating junk food or packaged food like Maggi noodles or soups.
With many famous celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit endorsing the brand and claiming the product to be highly nutritious, the product has faced criticism due to presence of high levels of Lead and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). MSG, a form of concentrated salt, is added as a preservative in packaged food items and it also acts like flavor enhancer. Research reveals that high consumption of MSG causes distressing symptoms such as light-headedness, constriction in the chest, stomach pain and a burning sensation. Researchers have proved that there is a direct relation between consumption of MSG and obesity. Hence children who eat more junk food are found to complain more about weight-increase, infections, food poisoning or other serious health problems.
The cacophony created by the surveys and tests conducted on the millions of samples of the popular 2-minute noodles has raised alarm among the millions of people who enjoy consuming the food item. Many states like Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Gujarat have banned the sale of maggi at retail outlets and cautioned the consumers. The company Nestle has even recalled many samples from the market and is analyzing them. Even organizations like Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is conducting tests on millions of maggi samples pertaining to the limits of lead and MSG contained in the packaged food item.
An important fact to note is that Maggi is not the only packaged food item supplied in the market. Like Maggi, other items too contain certain levels of MSG. How fit are such items for consumption is a question that remains unanswered.
This was the tale of a packaged food commodity but the food grains that are grown and cultivated by farmers also contain high levels of added chemicals like nitrates, phosphorus, urea that poses hazard to health. In 2012, superstar Aamir Khan, through his show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ highlighted the issue of high use of pesticides and fertilizers on food crops which acts like slow poison for people who consume large quantities of food items or live in close vicinity of arrears where cultivation of such crops are done that involve excessive use of such chemicals. The show also highlighted the preference of farmers raising separate crops for their own consumption in which no fertilizers and pesticides are used.
Is it possible to conduct tests on each and every grain of crop available in the market or to ensure that the items yet to be released would be duly tested and hence safe to consume?
The safety of consumption of food items is at risk and this calls for our food standards to be stringent enough to provide safe food items that are fit for consumption in all aspects.
India is a developing country where we claim to be self-sufficient in food availability but it is a shame for our country to note that still 3000 children die every day of hunger and malnutrition. Such data raise serious doubts on the authenticity of the fact that our country has achieved self-sustenance in food grain production and its availability to the masses.
The government shows their concern by asking the companies to call-back their products that fail to pass the tests conducted by FSSAI or other agencies or at times they penalize the companies for violating the prescribed standards of chemicals that any food item can possess. The punitive measures that government and other agencies take do not assure the masses that the items available in future would be fit for consumption. This creates an environment of mistrust and it takes huge amount of time and efforts on the part of companies to regain the confidence of consumers and achieving their market image. But isn’t preventive measures better than punitive ones? Had the tests and other regulatory standards been so stringent, the consumers would be saved of losing their confidence in their most beloved brands and companies would be saved of reputational and financial losses that they have to face.
The government is aiming at ‘Make in India’ campaign to increase employment and growth levels of the economy, but before that it should ensure that the food that is ‘MADE IN INDIA’ is safe for consumption. There is a popular prose in hindi ‘Jaan hai to Jahaan hai’. Man has three basic needs- FOOD, CLOTHING and SHELTER. Out of these, food marks the first basic need as it is a means of survival. Till now, availability of food grains had been the main challenge but cases like Maggi noodles make room for not just the availability of food but safety of food as another challenge in front of the government.
‘Make in India’ campaign aims to make our country a manufacturing hub which would reduce reliance on imports and in turn would create jobs for the youth. But this concept should not only be restricted to manufacturing sector but should also take into gamut agriculture sector where we ensure sufficient availability of HEALTHY AND SAFE food. The systems and procedures should be made so stringent and tough that no laxity should be permitted; the instances of recalling the stock from the market do not occur and they pass all the edible standards before they are released for consumption in the market. This should be the dual responsibility of the government and of FMCG companies. The government should frame strict guidelines regarding maximum permissible limits of added flavors in the food items and FMCG companies should ensure that they adhere to all such standards and thoroughly test the samples before releasing the stock in the market.
Hence before the campaign of ‘Make in India’ officially gains momentum, we must first ensure the suitability of what has already been ‘Made in India’.
The article has been authored by Aparajita Gupta, HR Manager in PSU.
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