Nestle argues against 'arbitrary' noodle ban in Indian court

MUMBAI (REUTERS) - An Indian regulator's report that found excess lead in Maggi instant noodles should be disregarded, food group Nestle said on Friday, as the sample was open for three months and past its sell-by date by the time it was tested.

Nestle has been battling its worst ever branding crisis in India since a regulator in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh found monosodium glutamate (MSG) and excess lead in a sample of its hugely popular noodles.

Last week, Nestle withdrew all varieties of the noodles, hours before the country's food safety authority (FSSAI) banned the snack, ruling it "unsafe and hazardous".

But Nestle maintains the noodles are safe and the food giant told the Bombay High Court on Friday that FSSAI'S decision was arbitrary, and questioned the standards of testing behind it.

"It is a sad commentary on the state of our labs," Nestle lawyer Iqbal Chagla said of the sample's handling, adding delays in testing the pack at the government's Kolkata lab may have contaminated it.

The storm over Maggi noodles, one of India's most popular snacks, has gripped increasingly health-conscious consumers, and has also highlighted shortcomings in the country's understaffed and underfunded food safety network.

The next hearing is on June 30. Until then, the court ruled the FSSAI order to withdraw the noodles stands.