news Sunday, June 07, 2015 - 05:30
    Risk and liability go hand in hand. To accept liability the quantum of risk has to be determined in some measurable form if it has to be commonly understood by all parties.  L’affaire Nestlé is a wake-up call for India and Indians more than it is for Nestlé.    For the global food giant the Maggi story in India was a huge public relations disaster, big enough for the company’s head to get on a plane and rush to India, one of its largest markets, to calm nerves and announce that they were not eating lead and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).  In an exchange of mails with The News Minute (TNM) from their headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland, Nestlé said in India, the Food and Safety Standards Regulations (FSSR) places instant noodle in the “instant food” category.    The FSSR (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) regulations 2011 stipulate that metal contaminants when used in foods should not exceed limits specified in the regulations. The lead content (calculated as parts per million) that is permitted in various types of food such as beverages, ice-creams and canned proteins for example, have been specifically stipulated in the statute.     “In addition there is a residual category stipulated in the schedule and titled foods not specified in respect of which the permissible levels of lead have been stipulated to be 2.55 ppm,” Rahul Matthan, Partner Trilegal in Bangalore told The TNM. “If the Maggi noodles were tested to be in excess of that amount then it violates the Food Standards Regulations. It is immaterial if the noodles are classified as proprietary foods or not for the purpose of this regulation which only deals with the permitted levels of metal contamination,” he added.    So, where does that leave India and Indians where a series of states have banned the product and conflicting reports of edibility are emerging? For a moment think of what happened in Bhopal and what could happen at a nuclear power plant. The comparison is neither exaggerated nor misplaced – it is vital to understand risk, frame it appropriately so compliance and liability are clearly understood and responsibilities fixed unequivocally if we want to prevent a repeat Maggi performance. A fortnight after the problem surfaced,  are we are nowhere closer to knowing what went wrong and how various organs of the government propose to fix it.    Fear is a poor conductor of discussions especially ones that deal with food and beverages or for that matter anything that we eat or drink. The notion of liability, tracking and tracing or even respecting an expiry date is not something we naturally in India resulting in jingoism and blaming the last or most visible person object or person.     If Nestlé failed in telling a coherent story so did India. Communications is the Holy Grail upon which confidence is built and trust thrives. Large companies, whether they are national or from abroad typically transfer the onus to the franchise which may be a country or a group. There is nothing preventing India to from ensuring that Indians get the best product at the best price. It is for India to ensure that goods and services are delivered as described to the satisfaction of the end-user.    As for Nestlé, they have pulled their noodles from the Indian market and will most certainly return with the corrected packaging and labeling. Some heads may roll for the muck-up, but it will stop at that. The problems we are left with are far more severe.  

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