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Maggi, Maggi, Begone Maggi!

India, June 8 -- Today the hatchet has fallen on Maggi, the two minute noodles dish. Maggi, the heartbeat of millions! Maggi, school children's mouth-watering delicacy! Lazy housewife's kitchen mate! Toothless grandma's eye-popping noodle spread! Above all, film stars' brand ambassadorial money spinner!

And, all of a sudden, Nestle's noodle has become lead carrier. Nestle is a multinational, multi-crore foreign business concern. Now the multibillion dollar question is whether Nestle has been taking all Maggi lovers for a ride? The government thinks so. The scare has emptied Maggi shelves in government shops and retail outfits.

Is this anti-Maggi campaign part of 'Swacch Bharat Abhiyan?' Or is there a desi angle or a foreign hand in it? Is it that a rival Indian concern or an MNC wants to be crowned as Instant dish king? Is it market rivalry? Or is it a genuine concern of the Health Ministry to save us from Nestle's alleged adulteration?

The courts may get the lead content clinically analysed and give verdict that either Nestle pack up Maggi or stay put. But will Maggi's disappearing from our kitchens or its surviving the controversy clean up the large scale food adulteration and food contamination in India? Food adulteration itself is a multi-crore industry in India.

Should we not tackle the question of food adulteration? Food adulteration happens in a variety of ways. The vegetables we bring home from the market may be contaminated due to polluted environment. The colouring materials added to food items by clever business people in their backyards often hoodwink us.

According to a research study by V. Lakshmi et al., (International Journal of Science Inventions Today, V. Lakshmi et al., 2012, the following facts emerge: Different forms of adulteration and contamination take place. Milk is mixed with water. Pure ghee is adulterated with vanaspati. Cereals get adulterated with ergot; wheat flour with chalk powder; coffee with chicory or tamarind; pepper seeds with papaya seeds (papaya seeds are abortifacient and cause liver, digestive ailments, giddiness and joint pain); chilli powder with red brick powder; coriander powder (dhania) with saw dust; turmeric, dals and pulses with Metanil Yellow (carcinogenic); turmeric coloured with red chilli powder; Green chillies, green peas and other vegetables treated with Malachite Green to accentuate colour and brightness; mustard oil with argemone seed oil (carcinogenic); Paneer, Khoya and condensed milk with starch to give thickness and texture; ice cream with pepperonil (pesticide), ethyl acetate (causes lung, kidney and heart ailments), butraldehyde, emil acetate, nitrate, washing powder etc.

The article goes on to state that the type of sticky and slow melting gum added to ice cream to avoid melting is obtained by boiling animal parts like tail, nose or udder. Will animal lovers and animal worshippers ever consume ice cream on learning this? Red wine is adulterated with the juice of bilberries. "Of all forms of adulteration the most reprehensible was the use of poisonous colouring matters in the manufacture of jellies and sweets. The bright colours used to attract children often contained lead, copper or mercury salts."

Extensively used food-preservatives are salicylic, benzoic, and boric acids, and their sodium salts, formaldehyde, ammonium fluoride, and sulphurous acid. "Many of these appear to be innocuous, but there is danger that the continued use of food preserved by these agents may be injurious. Some preservatives have been conclusively shown to be injurious when used for long period."

Butter is made more yellow by anatta. Jellies are coloured to simulate finer tones. Confectionery is treated with dangerous colours, such as chrome yellow, Prussian blue, copper and arsenic compounds. Cream is adulterated with gelatin, and formaldehyde is employed as a preservative for it. Butter is adulterated to an enormous extent with oleomargarine, a product of beef fat. Injectable dyes are used in watermelon, peas, capsicum, and brinjal etc.

Given the pan world business Nestle's clout and spread, the Maggi controversy may peter out. But should it not act as a curtain raiser to highlight the fact that there are umpteen instances and varieties of food and beverages adulteration and contamination we are submitted to without our knowing or wanting? Should it not be the responsibility of the Health Ministry to take stock of this and do its homework for cleaning up the Augean stables of adulteration which is a mega business in itself? Maggi's monosodium glutamate may be one instance. But are we not being taken for a glorious ride by many other food and beverage industries?

There is a second factor in food adulteration and contamination in India. How do our hotels, eateries and teashops dish out consumable articles? Neither the Health Ministry nor any food inspectors are bothered about the open display of food items in shops, markets and small hotels where flies, insects and maggots have a field day over such food items. Added to that is the way the servers serve food with bare hands. A gentleman from Kerala on a north Indian trip went starving after he saw to his dismay rice being scooped into the plate with bare hands at a hotel. Enough is enough, he mumbled and walked out.

Such unhygienic ways of keeping and serving contaminated food will necessarily cause amoebic dysentery, giardiasis, colic disorders and the rest.

Therefore, the important question to ask is whether the government should take matters seriously or not. Going after Nestle is one thing. It may produce headlines. But are there not similar issues of health concerns of health and hygiene. We go to hotels and eateries for food and not to buy diseases. We go to shops to buy raw food and beverages for household needs and not to bargain for ailments due to adulteration.

A recent graffiti in the Times of India, Kolkata edition, has an apt message: 'Why not do away with exclamation point? Nobody is surprised anymore.'

Have we come to that stage where we do not ask questions any more, where we do away with exclamation points, where we allow ourselves to be taken for a ride? Shall we stomach any adulterants and allow all perpetrators of adulteration and their collaborators a field day? And suffer in silence?

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jun 8, 2015
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