Allow government labs to test food products, FSSAI to SC

New Delhi, Dec 11 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday sought response from Nestle and Maharashtra government on a plea by food regulator FSSAI plea seeking stay of the Bombay High Court order prohibiting food testing by government labs not accredited by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) under food safety and standards law.

A bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C. Pant also issued notice on a Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) plea for putting the sale of Maggi noodles on hold as it was a proprietary product and its sale was contrary to the section 22 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

Section 22 says “no person shall manufacture, distribute, sell or import any novel food, genetically modified articles of food, irradiated food, organic foods, foods for special dietary uses, functional foods, neutraceuticals, health supplements, proprietary foods and such other articles of food which the central government may notify in this behalf.”

However, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the court that FSSAI for now was not pressing for the prayer to put the sale of Maggi noodles on the hold.

Pointing to the Bombay High Court holding that the findings of the government labs not accredited by the NABL could not be relied upon, he said that there 70 labs belonging to the central and state governments and because of the high court order, these were unable to do any work.

Telling the court that all these food testing laboratories were notified under the earlier Prevention of Food Adulteration Act and it was said that they would continue to operate even under the 2006 act, he noted that the high court however did not accept this and held since the labs that tested Maggi noodles were not NABL-accredited, their findings could not be relied upon.

The high court by its August 13, 2015, order had said that “food laboratories where the samples (of Maggi) were tested were not accredited and recognized laboratories as provided under the act and regulations for testing presence of lead WPL/1688/2015 and therefore no reliance could be placed on the said results”.

By the said judgment, the high court had quashed the FSSAI’s June 5, 2015 order, asking Nestle as to why the permission to produce and market Maggi noodles should not be withdrawn.

As court issued notice, senior counsel Harish Salve appearing for Nestle India told the court that government has filed a class action suit against then before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and the same should be stayed.

Finding the court not inclined to accept his plea saying that it was a challenge to the high court order, Salve indicated that Nestle India may move a separate plea before the court questioning the class action by the government.

The government filed a class action suit against Nestle India, the manufacturer of Maggi noodles, seeking about Rs.640 crore in damages for alleged unfair trade practices, false labelling and misleading advertisements.

The court directed the hearing of the matter on January 13 as Salve said that the company would file its response by January 5.

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