India’s government is seeking damages of nearly $100m from Nestle India for “unfair trade practices” after the food safety regulator banned its hugely popular Maggi noodles brand in June for containing unsafe levels of lead.
The government said on Wednesday that it has filed a suit with the country’s top consumer court, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), for 6,400 million rupees ($98.6m) in damages from the Indian arm of the Swiss food giant.
“Our complaint is over their unfair trade practices and the court will now issue them notices to hear their response,” G Gurcharan, Additional Secretary at the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, told AFP news agency.
In April, laboratory tests ordered by some state governments found the noodles contained far higher levels of lead than legally allowed. The tests also detected the flavour enhancer chemical monosodium glutamate, or MSG, which is not mentioned in the product’s list of ingredients.
A Nestle India spokesman said the company had not yet received official notice about the complaint with the NCDRC, a semi-judicial body that has the power to fine companies.
“We shall be able to provide substantive response after we receive the official papers,” said Himanshu Manglik.
However, Manglik said the company has already sought “a review and interpretation” of the Indian food safety authority’s decision in a petition filed in the Mumbai High Court and is expecting a decision soon.
Maggi noodles are a hugely popular snack and Nestle’s “two-minute” advertising campaign stressing the ease of preparing the food have made it a household name in India.
The noodles were Nestle’s fastest-selling food item in India, accounting for about 15 billion rupees ($240m) in sales annually.
Nestle India said earlier it would destroy instant noodles worth 3.2 billion rupees ($50m) following the sales ban.
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