The Maggi debacle and some afterthoughts on lead

Maggi is banned in Kerala among other Indian states. The name that was synonymous with noodles in India and a huge revenue earner for Nestle, the Swiss parent company, is desperately trying to stay afloat on the markets it once ruled.

As a school kid, I was used by the occasional Maggi promotional truck inside our school premises where the teachers would go out and enjoy Maggi noodles on our behalf. The students were not allowed by the headmaster.

Maggi noodles, according to India’s food safety regulator which ordered nationwide testing, contained more than permissible levels of both lead and MSG.

Lead has long been in debate for its pernicious nature. It was used in paints (and is still used!) and even used for coating household utensils to prevent corrosion and increase durability. But after being found to have detrimental effects on the cognitive abilities of children, it is totally banned in many developed countries including the United States.

Lead is a metal found on earth. So why is it considered harmful when other metals like iron, copper, and zinc are considered essential minerals for the human body? Well, one reason might be that it is not naturally occurring on the earth’s surface. Man had dug deep to bring it up.

Lead is poisonous on many counts and is considered a neurotoxin. Lead, even when ingested in small quantities can enter the cell cytoplasm, a process called inclusion, where it can potentially damage the cell’s genetic materials. As a result, our offspring might be born with genetic defects.

A few years ago, a Chinese-toymaker-businessman had committed suicide because of the losses he incurred in a contract with the American toymaker Fisher-Price. His shipment was disallowed after it was found to have more than permissible amounts of lead in the paint he used on the children’s toys.

A few weeks later, I was appalled while traveling through a small village in Kerala when I saw a smith’s shop-sign stating that they will lead-coat your household utensils! Knowledge disparity? Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NGOs, please take note.


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