There has been something of a furore in India over Nestle’s Maggi Noodles Brand. Some time back the state authorities tested some and confiscated them on the grounds that they contained excessive lead. Lead is not something that we really want to have in our food of course, it being a cumulative poison to humans and most other forms of animal life. The case is now being bandied around at the Supreme Court and it has to be said that it’s not looking good. For we’ve at least one justice who seems not to realise what this case is about.
It’s not over whether there is lead in Nestle’s Maggi Noodles. Of course there’s lead in there, there’s lead in everything. The question is instead, there are legal limits on the amount of lead which is permissible in foodstuffs – is the level in Maggi Noodles above or below this limit?
This first part therefore is just wrong:
A bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said the report of Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysuru, where the samples of Maggi were tested, will form the basis for the proceedings. The top court had on Dec. 6, 2015 stayed the proceedings before the commission and directed the Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysuru, to place its test report before it. “Why should we be eating Maggi with lead in it?” Justice Chandrachud asked Singhvi, who replied that lead content in the noodles was well within the permissible limit and there was some amount of lead in various other products.
Everything has lead in it. You and I have lead in us, the garden soil has lead in it, the rainwater that falls from the sky has lead in it. Everything has lead in it. As, just about, everything has some portion of each and every element in it.
The air is about 3 parts per million helium but it doesn’t make our voices go all squeaky. Seawater is some portion whale sperm but we don’t get pregnant – nor do whales – from swimming in the ocean.
What matters is how much?
We have limits on how much is allowable for lead in foods. Those limits might be right and they might be wrong but that is what determines legality. Say, and just as an example, the law says that 1 part per million lead it’s OK. If the noodles are less than 1 part per million lead then they’re legal. If we all think that’s not OK then it’s the legal limits that we’ve got to change, not attack one product that meets them.
We’ll obviously find out whether Maggi Noodles meet those legal limits. But we’ve at least got to start from the obvious, which is that there’s lead in everything. The important question is how much?