MAGGI – A poison

Maggi noodles sold in India are made in India and thus it has nothing to do with the “Make in India” program. Again, Modi government is not calling the shots here. The action originally started from a state government and the central government didn’t want to risk angering the super-vocal middle class.

12 years ago there was a similar action against the Cola companies and somehow things were fixed. The irony is that India is not known for food safety at all. In every incident, some random MNC is picked up, all the local media raises cry to a feverish pitch and then after all the drama, things maggi_mast_masalamove on.

Not long ago, 23 kids in Bihar died in school meal poisoning. Served death: Bihar mid-day meal tragedy kills 22 kids – India’s middle class had no real protest for such things and thus those real issues never really get government action. How many has Maggi killed so far? 0. And this is a food product that sells millions of packets every day. If the Indian middle class reserves at least half the anger it had for Maggi for serious food safety issues, so many accidents like those in Bihar could have been averted.

The issue is far deeper than Maggi or Nestle. Deep down, there is practically a paranoia among some sections of the middle class for foreign companies. As an example from popular culture, there were two recent popular Tamil movies –Katthi and Porampoku made by top actors that were centered on how the foreign corporates are hoodwinking India. Combined with cliched dialogue and shrill antics, such movies continue to draw large audience even in a relatively developed state.

Maybe it is the scars of East India Company and Union Carbide. But, there is a fear of Multinational Companies and the standards expected out of them is far more than local companies. An Indian might not mind at all eating at the roadside eatery next door with 20 times more lead than what is allegedly in Maggi, but would not raise much of a voice against that.

Just some sample of cases in the last couple of days:
30 recovering from food poisoning case at GMCH – The Times of India
20 people fall ill due to food poisoning – The Times of India
West Bengal: 100 people affected by food poisoning

None of these issues got any bit of activism from the middle class. These are real issues where people are dying right now. Not some hypothetical risks from MSG.

I wish Indian government’s food standards are so high that higher level of MSG anywhere is taken seriously. But, it is not. Food safety is appalling. Far dangerous substances are at the foods Indians eat and most don’t care. The enforcement is totally haphazard and random.

I don’t really know whether Maggi did go wrong in the quality control. I’m not arguing that they are good. If it did it should pay a price for that. However, we should have some level of fairness in how we apply these standards across all companies. The way in which we are enforcing these food standards is highly irregular, unpredictable and possibly bordering on xenophobic. We have no standard way of applying standards at all. At the very least we should have an equal outrage for foods that are right now killing people – especially the poor.

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