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Business News/ Companies / News/  Nestlé Controversies: From sugar in baby food to Maggi ban, we look at top 8 concerns in India and abroad
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Nestlé Controversies: From sugar in baby food to Maggi ban, we look at top 8 concerns in India and abroad

Nestlé Controversies: Recent findings reveal that the world’s largest consumer food and beverages company adds sugar to infant food in developing countries, unlike similar products sold in Europe.

Nestlé is facing a host of accusations in India and abroad about their water, plastic pollution, food safety and more. (Reuters)Premium
Nestlé is facing a host of accusations in India and abroad about their water, plastic pollution, food safety and more. (Reuters)

Multi-national conglomerate Nestlé hit the headlines this week for the sugar content in its baby food sold in developing countries. Nestlé India was found to have included sugar and honey in infant milk and cereal products such as Cerelac, as per a Guardian report.

Responding to the concerns, Nestlé India told Mint that it has reduced up to 30 percent of added sugars across its infant cereal range over the past five years.

Also Read | Nestlé on infant cereal range in India: Reduced 30% added sugar in 5 years

Amid this new concern, we revisit the other controversies Nestlé is battling in India and abroad.

Added Sugar in Baby Food for Developing Countries

Citing data from Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), the Guardian reported findings after examining 115 products sold in Nestlé's main markets in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, focusing on Cerelac and Nodi brands.

Public Eye's analysis revealed that all Cerelac baby cereal products examined in India contained added sugar, averaging nearly three grams per serving.

Notably, while products sold in developing countries contained added sugar, Nestlé's European market offered sugar-free infant nutrition products.

Public Eye and IBFAN's investigation highlighted significant differences in sugar content between Nestlé's products marketed in low-income and middle-income countries and those sold in Switzerland. 

Also Read | Nestle baby food concerns: 'Will investigate', Centre takes cognisance on sugar addition in infant food, says report

In particular, two of Nestlé's best-selling baby-food brands in developing nations contained high levels of added sugar, contrasting with sugar-free products in Switzerland.

In CY22, Nestlé India's milk products and nutrition portfolio, including dairy whitener, condensed milk, yoghurt, maternal and infant formula, baby foods, and healthcare nutrition, reported sales of 6,815.73 crore.

Backlash Over Unhealthy Food Portfolio

In 2021, the world’s largest consumer food and beverages company came under fire following the disclosure of an internal presentation indicating that a significant portion of its mainstream food and beverages range is not considered healthy, as per a Hindustan Times report.

In the internal document, Nestle revealed that 60 percent of its food and drinks portfolio, excluding pet food, baby formula, and coffee, failed to meet recognised health standards. The company also admitted that certain food products within its range may never achieve a healthy status.

It had then announced plans to update its nutrition and health strategy and review its entire product lineup to ensure alignment with nutritional requirements. Nestle said it had reduced sodium and sugar content across its products by at least 14-15 percent over the past seven years.

Maggi Noodles Banned in India

Between June 5 and September 1, 2015, approximately 38,000 tonnes of Maggi Noodles were withdrawn from retail shelves across India and subsequently destroyed.

The withdrawal severely impacted Nestle India, with Maggi's market share plummeting from 80 percent to zero. Maggi sales contributed to over 25 percent of Nestle India's revenues, posing a significant threat to the company's operations in the country.

Sanjay Singh, a food inspector at the Uttar Pradesh government’s Food Safety and Drug Administration, found the fault during a routine inspection in March 2014.

Singh found packets of Maggi noodles boasting "no added MSG (monosodium glutamate)" and sent a sample to the state laboratory at Gorakhpur for analysis. The results confirmed the presence of MSG, prompting further testing at the Central Food Laboratory in Kolkata in June 2014. The results received almost a year later in April 2015, revealed the presence of MSG and lead, with the lead content exceeding Nestle India's claims by over 1,000 times.

Months later, in May, Nestle issued its first official statement reassuring consumers. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) took up the matter on May 25 and, on June 5, 2015, ordered Nestle to recall Maggi noodles.

Boycott in the US for Discouraging Breastfeeding

In the United States, Nestle faced accusations of discouraging breastfeeding to promote its baby formula as a healthier alternative despite the lack of proven evidence, as per a Hindustan Times report. This sparked a boycott of Nestle products in the United States in 1977, which later spread to Europe.

The boycott persisted until 1984, when Nestle agreed to adhere to an international marketing code endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO), which led to the official suspension of the boycott in the US.

Child Slave Labour Accusations

Nestlé faced legal heat over allegations of child slave labour. In 2021, eight former alleged child slaves sued the company, along with others, for alleged involvement in the illegal enslavement of children on cocoa farms on the Ivory Coast, as per a report by Utopia.org.

The petitioners accused Nestle of “aiding and abetting the illegal enslavement of thousands of children on cocoa farms in their supply chains." However, in June 2022, a US District Court dismissed the case for lack of standing to sue because the plaintiffs did not show a “traceable connection" between the seven defendant companies and the specific plantations where they worked, as per a Reuters report. Hershey and Cargill were also named in the lawsuit.

Exploiting Drought-Ridden Areas

Nestlé's water bottling practices have drawn criticism, particularly in drought-prone regions like California. Despite the state's recurring droughts, Nestlé had been extracting water from the San Bernardino National Forest since 1988, paying a nominal fee despite an expired permit.

Since 1984, Nestlé has used this water for its Arrowhead water source. Multiple petitions addressing this issue have been filed in US courts. In October 2023, BlueTriton Brands, approached the Fresno County Superior Court, arguing against the State Water Resources Control Board's decision to halt “unauthorised diversions" of water from springs in the San Bernardino Mountains, as per an LA Times report. Nestlé claimed the board has overstepped its authority “far beyond what California law allows."

Among the World's Top Plastic Polluters

Nestlé's packaging practices contributed to plastic pollution, as per a report by Utopia.org. Critics raised concerns over their approach to plastic waste management, suggesting that a focus on incineration may exacerbate pollution.

Nestle's website claims it “aims for above 95 percent of our plastic packaging to be designed for recycling by 2025." However, Greenpeace claimed that the company burned its plastic waste, leading to toxic pollution, as per Utopia.org.

Contaminating Groundwater

Accusations also mounted against Nestlé for groundwater exploitation. In Pakistan, where water scarcity is a pressing issue, Nestlé's operations have allegedly led to sinking water levels and contamination. 

Forensic audits submitted to the Pakistan Supreme Court showed significant water wastage, contradicting management's assertions. “While the Nestle Pakistan management said that 15 percent of water was wasted during the Reverse Osmosis (RO) process in water treatment, it could not justify the rest of the 28 percent wastage of water," the audit report said.

Further, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, allegedly, no payments were made for the water supply.

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Published: 18 Apr 2024, 11:11 AM IST
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