Maggie Fiasco; A wake-up call for our democratic nation By Bipin Sharma

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It was no less than a rude bolt from the blue when the Maggie fiasco story emerged in the public domain. The hue and cry that ensued was on expected lines, however this is just the tip of the iceberg…. as many more skeletons will tumble out of the closet in the coming times.

The distressing aspect in the entire controversy surrounding Maggie Noodles today is that we are just digressing away from the main issues.

Extremely ludicrous that we are keeping the attention glued to only around the Maggie brand and the celebs endorsing the brand… While no two thoughts that the brand and the brand ambassadors indubitably cannot be exonerated for their share of undoing’s…the focus ideally needs to be on broad basing the investigation by conducting surprise raids on countless of other food products that pose grave threat to the health of countless innocent citizens. The Maggie episode has made us wary about numerous other food products in the consumer market that are not adhering to the stipulated guidelines and parameters.

More than the respective governments in the last decade or so, the ones really to be blamed are the food companies for breaching the trust of consumers as well as some food regulators that have miserably failed in their duty, by adopting a lax attitude towards consumer safety and well being.

If inspections were conducted regularly and sincerely, the story of Maggie would not have gone that far, and so much damage would not have been inflicted on the health of countless citizens. Ironically it’s been years since people have been consuming Maggie, and one can only wonder how the high quality of lead in Maggie went unnoticed, undetected all these years. Why does it happen only in India, is the million dollar question on everyone’s mind?

Consumers are wondering and curious to know why it takes years for them to be informed about the constituents of the food product that they are consuming? Is the health and well being of Indian consumers in specific, a non issue that those responsible for conducting regular tests maintain a nonchalant attitude, and simply do nothing concrete in this regard for years together??

Do the citizens have no right to know about the relevant safety steps undertaken by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) viz a viz the commonly consumed food products? The chorus is growing for transforming the entire process of conducting tests on food products into a more transparent one, with proper information being disseminated to the consumers on a periodic basis.

Nandita Sharma, a corporate executive and a consumer points, “Many believe that if the company Nestle in this case is to be held responsible, so are some ‘food regulators’ who have erred in being sincere to their job all these years? It is appalling to see some sweet shop owners (popularly referred to as Halwai’s) as well as some food item retailers adopting an evasive attitude on getting a whiff of surprise inspection checks by the sampling department. The fear factor among the sweet shop owners and retailers is more baffling than anything, and insinuates that there’s much more to it than meets the eye. Why should these shop owners, the retailers, and wholesalers of food items show reluctance in submitting their food samples to the sampling testing team in the larger interests of the society? Keeping the shutters of their premises temporarily down and shying away from behaving in a conscientious manner, ends up raising more suspicion.”

Shop owners and retailers need to realize that it is imperative on their part to be not only fully educated and aware of the food item that they are selling to the consumers, but have to be duly forthcoming in conveying all the consumer related information and knowledge as and when sought by the end consumer. It is the right of every consumer to be duly informed about every product he or she is buying. In case of food items, it becomes all the more essential for the consumer to be informed about the overall food safety and standards as it concerns the health factor directly, and vice versa, the retailer is duty bound to convey all necessary food quality information to the end consumers.

Besides, it is pertinent on their part to regularly submit their samples before the sampling team in order to minimize the risk factors. With systemic sample checks of food items in place, it would ensure that the health of the citizens does not get played around with anymore, as it has been till now sardonically.

Following the Maggie debacle, one wonders if some food product companies have been submitting the highest quality and safe products to the food regulators merely to procure the clearance nod. Once the nod comes through, the food companies tamper with the original quality by making alterations in the food constituents. Subsequently what gets distributed in the market is a different product than what was submitted to the food regulators for approval.

If surprise investigations reveal that some companies are indeed indulging in such malpractices, then it is a serious offence that merits stringent punitive action against them for playing mischief with public health.

In the aftermath of the Maggie fiasco, it becomes all the more significant for the government appointed food regulators to collect food samples of the same item from both the manufacturing company as well as its retailers, distributors and stockists for discerning the ‘discrepancies’ if any. This exercise of unraveling the discrepancies between the food item samples submitted by the manufacturing company to the food regulators for vetting, and the food items being sold in the market through the retail chain, will ensure that the food sample cleared by the food regulators will eventually get distributed in the market for consumer consumption.

While the samples from manufacturers should undergo stringent food quality checks on a regular basis, it should be made mandatory for retailers to cooperate with the food regulators by readily submitting their samples as and when required for ensuring the well being and good health of the end consumers. The shocking revelations of high lead content in Maggie samples collected from different cities of the country should serve as a wake-up call for the citizens.

Dr D.K Batra, Marketing and Management expert observes, “In the present day scenario, there seems to be a ‘clear trust deficit’ between the retailers and the food regulators which is why we sometimes see the retailers adopting an evasive attitude when food regulators come knocking on their doors. The sweet shop owners in particular, the retailers, and distributors need to realize that sharing and conveying the correct information with both the consumers as well as the government food regulators is extremely crucial, and can no way be compromised. By doing so, they would not only ensure the timely testing of the samples of new food products, but would also ensure the well being of citizens. The foremost and final leaning of retailers and distributors should be only towards the consumer. By conducting them responsibly, retailers go on to play a crucial role in society. As a matter of fact, retailers should be the first ones to inform the food regulators about any anomalies in the products they are selling. Logically speaking, the retailers do a world of good to their credibility when they highlight the anomalies in a food product of the Indian company, or the multinational brand. Keeping shutters down, and not conducting them as ‘responsible members’ of the society is bound to send wrong signals, and eventually make them too culpable in some way or the other. As far as the case of Maggie noodles is concerned, one needs to seriously question the food regulators about the number of sample tests they had conducted on Maggie in the last five years or so. That alone would clear the air on myriads of unanswered queries.”

It is extremely crucial to take into account two different scenarios: In the first scenario, if the food regulators were oblivious of the high lead content in Maggie, it is gross insincerity to not just their profession, but also to the nation as their job demanded them to conduct regular inspection checks. There is no reason why timely and efficient checks on Maggie sample would have not have brought to fore the excess content of lead in Maggie.

In the second scenario assuming that the food regulators knew about the ‘more than permissible lead content’, it makes them all them more reprehensible as they intentionally chose to look the other way, thereby putting to peril the well being and health of countless citizens.

Whatever the case maybe, the fact remains that it has been a ‘systematic collapse’, which is why a large segment of the society believes that both the company and the food regulators pan India need to be held responsible for breaching the norms and the trust of the nation.

Equally significant is to lay stress on displaying the factually correct information of the content of the various food products in the market.

Any ‘misleading information’ can lead to dire consequences for the consumers, and wreak havoc on their health.

The ‘information’ displayed on the food products must be corroborated periodically by the food regulators for removing the lacunas in the system. Companies indulging in misleading the public by displaying wrong information on their food products should be taken to task.

The actual need of the hour is to collect samples of various popular daily use food items, and subsequently sending them to the labs for testing.

Experts believe that many food items would be found deficient of the requisite quality standards and benchmarks.

Those at the helm of affairs need to take due cognizance of the sensitive matter as it involves the health of countless citizens.

Maggie should be the starting point for launching nationwide investigations against companies flouting the basic norms of food safety and standards. Cases should be filed against the companies found to be flouting the basic procedures and norms, and eventually putting to risk the lives of innocent consumers.

Albeit it’s late in the day, nevertheless amends can be made by putting an embargo on the sale and distribution of any food item found flouting the specified safety and standard norms!

In this hour of crisis, our democratic nation needs to be unified in sending a strong message to one and all- ‘That health of citizens merits top priority and cannot be compromised at any cost”

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