An Indian court on Thursday (13) overturned a government ban on Nestle’s hugely popular Maggi noodles brand, but ordered further tests before the product can go back on sale.
Nestle had gone to the court to challenge the nationwide ban ordered by India’s food safety watchdog in June, after tests by some states found lead levels exceeded statutory limits.
The Swiss food giant has always maintained the product is safe to eat, and has continued to sell it in other countries.
In its judgement, the high court in the western city of Mumbai called the ban “arbitrary” and said it violated the “principles of national justice”.
“We have examined the evidence in great detail. Since the petitioner Nestle has already agreed not to make and sell Maggi until the food authorities are satisfied, we see no reason to allow any relief to food authorities,” Justice Vidyasagar Kanade told the court.
“We direct that Nestle send five samples from each batch of Maggi for testing to three labs and only if the lead is found to be lower than permitted will they start manufacturing and sale again.”
Shares in Nestle India rose nearly four per cent after the ruling. It came a day after India filed a complaint with the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission was seeking damages of Rs6,400 million (nearly $100m/£64m) from the company for “unfair trade practices”.
In response, Nestle said its noodles went through stringent testing at laboratories both in India and abroad.
“Each one of these tests have shown lead to be far below the permissible limits,” it said.
It also said it does not add monosodium glutamate (MSG) to its products, and that the substance occurs naturally in many ingredients.
The government’s food safety watchdog had said traces of MSG were detected in Maggi noodles and criticised the company for failing to include the substance in the list of ingredients.
Nestle has sold its Maggi noodles for over three decades in India, and had 80 per cent of the country’s instant noodle market before the ban.
It emerged as one of India’s five most trusted brands in a consumer survey conducted last year and has been endorsed by celebrities including Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
According to Brand Finance, a consultancy firm, Maggi is set to lose over $200m (£128m) in brand value following the setback in India.
Maggi was previously valued at $2.4 billion (£1.5bn), Brand Finance said, adding that it had ranked the noodle manufacturer as the 23rd most valuable food brand in the world.
Nestle chief executive Paul Bulcke said in June the brand was 100 per cent safe, and he was working to get it back on Indian shelves “as soon as possible”.
“One can have facts on one’s side but it’s the perception that counts,” Bulcke said, explaining the company’s decision to withdraw and destroy the product in India.