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Nestle Food Portfolio Under Scanner, The Apathy Of Being A ‘Developing Country’; From ‘Contaminated’ Cough Syrups Sold To ‘Dangerous’ Levels Of Sugar, The Money Equated To Lives Gamble!

Nestlé is a global brand in the food industry, and we will undoubtedly consume one or more products from it.

However, it is not the first time this giant brand has found itself in controversy once again, although this time, it is much more troubling as it concerns infants, where it was found that the sugar content in its baby food products sold in developing nations is high!

Thus, the recent spotlight on Nestlé India’s inclusion of sugar and honey in infant milk and cereal products like Cerelac has reignited concerns over the multinational corporation’s practices. 

Nestle, Cerelac, Baby Products, Sugar, Controversies

Nestle’s Formula For Developing Countries 

The scrutiny on Nestlé’s sugar content in baby food products for developing countries has been brought to light by a recent report citing data from Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). 

The investigation focused on Cerelac and Nodi brands across Nestlé’s key markets in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Shockingly, the report revealed that all Cerelac baby cereal products examined in India contained added sugar, averaging almost three grams per serving.

Disparity in Sugar Content 

What’s particularly concerning is the glaring difference in sugar content between Nestlé’s products marketed in low—and middle-income countries and those in Switzerland

While infant nutrition products in Europe are offered sugar-free, two of Nestlé’s leading baby food brands in developing nations contain alarmingly high levels of added sugar. 

Thus, this contrast raises questions about Nestlé’s ethical standards and its approach to consumer health across different socio-economic contexts.

Financial Implications and Regulatory Response 

Beyond the health implications, the financial aspect of Nestlé’s practices cannot be overlooked. 

In 2022, Nestlé India’s milk products and nutrition portfolio reported substantial sales, indicating the significant market presence of its baby food products. 

However, amid growing concerns, regulatory authorities have started taking notice. 

The Indian government has reportedly acknowledged the issue and vowed to investigate further, signalling potential regulatory action in response to Nestlé’s practices.

The Inequality

As the case study on food products sold in ‘developing countries’ gains momentum, one cannot but see the sobering reality – one where the callous indifference of corporate giants overshadows the aspirations of nations striving for progress. 

One where working for monetary gains amassed through questionable practices is pit against the incalculable cost of human lives lost or irreparably harmed. 

In this high-stakes gamble, the odds are stacked against the most vulnerable, and ethical governance in global food production and distribution is questioned.

Nestle, Growing Backlash Over Unhealthy Food Portfolio

In 2021, the world’s largest consumer food and beverage company faced backlash when an internal presentation surfaced revealing that a substantial portion of its mainstream food and beverage range did not meet recognized health standards.

Questions rose about the implications of this revelation –

What specific criteria define “health standards” in the context of food and beverages? 

How does Nestle justify the inclusion of products that fail to meet these standards in its portfolio?

The Nestle Reality

Critically, the internal document disclosed that Nestle acknowledged 60 percent of its food and drinks lineup, excluding pet food, baby formula, and coffee, fell short of these health standards. 

Similarly, Nestle conceded that certain products within its range might never attain a healthy status.

One might inquire about Nestle’s rationale for retaining products that are deemed unlikely to meet health standards. 

What factors contribute to the decision-making process regarding the continuation of such products within the company’s portfolio other than the fact it mints money!

In response to the scrutiny, Nestle announced plans to revamp its nutrition and health strategy, pledging to reassess its entire product lineup to ensure alignment with nutritional requirements. 

Additionally, Nestle claimed to have reduced sodium and sugar content across its products by at least 14-15 percent over the past seven years.

However, one might want to as – what specific measures has Nestle implemented to reduce sodium and sugar content? 

How does Nestle intend to monitor and evaluate the impact of these changes on consumer health outcomes?

Maggi Noodles Banned in India

The Maggi noodles controversy in India is an example of Nestle’s explosive relationship with food safety and regulatory compliance.

During routine inspection in March 2014, Sanjay Singh, a food inspector at the Uttar Pradesh government’s Food Safety and Drug Administration, uncovered discrepancies in Maggi noodles packaging, notably regarding the claim of “no added MSG (monosodium glutamate).”

Subsequent laboratory tests revealed the presence of MSG and lead in Maggi noodles, prompting widespread public concern and regulatory intervention.

In May 2015, Nestle issued its first official statement addressing consumer concerns, followed by a recall order from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on June 5, 2015.

Coming back to the latest controversy, in response to ongoing concerns, Nestlé India stated that it had reduced up to 30 percent of added sugars across its infant cereal range over the past five years.

Not In India Alone

Nestle found itself in controversy in the United States when it was accused of actively discouraging breastfeeding to promote its baby formula as a purportedly healthier alternative despite the lack of conclusive evidence to support such claims.

This can be labelled a ‘dangerous’ claim, and ignited a significant backlash, leading to a widespread boycott of Nestle products in the US in 1977, a movement that later rippled across Europe.

Therefore, Nestle’s marketing practices can definitely be called out for employing specific tactics to promote its baby formula as superior to breastfeeding. 

The boycott endured until 1984 when Nestle acceded to pressure and committed to adhere to an international marketing code endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

This move resulted in the official suspension of the boycott in the US, marking a significant turning point in Nestle’s approach to infant nutrition and marketing ethics.

Child Slave Labour Accusations

Nestle has also faced intense legal scrutiny over allegations of complicity in child slave labor practices within its cocoa supply chain. 

In 2021, eight former alleged child slaves filed a lawsuit against the company, among others, accusing them of involvement in the illegal enslavement of children on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, as reported by

The lawsuit raised fundamental questions about corporate responsibility and accountability.

However, in June 2022, a US District Court dismissed the case, citing a lack of standing to sue due to the plaintiffs’ failure to establish a “traceable connection” between the defendant companies and the specific plantations where child labor allegedly occurred.

Notably, other major companies like Hershey and Cargill were also implicated in the lawsuit, showing the pervasive nature of child labor in the cocoa industry and the challenges of holding multinational corporations accountable.

Exploiting Drought-Ridden Areas

Likewise, Nestle’s water bottling practices, particularly in drought-prone regions like California, have also drawn sharp criticism and legal scrutiny. 

Despite recurrent droughts in the state, Nestle has been extracting water from the San Bernardino National Forest since 1988, paying a nominal fee despite an expired permit.

The controversy surrounding Nestle’s water extraction raises fundamental questions about corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship.

Multiple petitions challenging Nestle’s water bottling practices have been filed in US courts, stressing the complex legal and ethical dimensions of water resource management in the context of corporate interests and public welfare. 

In October 2023, BlueTriton Brands, a subsidiary of Nestle, contested the State Water Resources Control Board’s decision to halt “unauthorized diversions” of water from springs in the San Bernardino Mountains.

World’s Top Plastic Polluters

Nestle’s packaging practices have also come under scrutiny for contributing to plastic pollution, and critics have raised concerns about the company’s approach to plastic waste management, alleging that its focus on incineration may worsen pollution rather than mitigate it.

Nestle’s pledge to design over 95 percent of its plastic packaging for recycling by 2025 is commendable but raises questions about the feasibility and efficacy of such initiatives in the face of mounting plastic pollution challenges. 

Greenpeace has accused Nestle of incinerating its plastic waste, leading to toxic pollution and environmental harm.

Groundwater Toxicity

Nestle has faced allegations of groundwater exploitation and contamination, particularly in regions like Pakistan, where water scarcity is a pressing issue. 

Forensic audits submitted to the Pakistan Supreme Court revealed significant water wastage and contamination linked to Nestle’s operations, raising serious environmental and public health concerns.

The Last Bit, Nestle’s track record across these various controversies, raises fundamental questions about corporate accountability, transparency, and responsibility in the pursuit of profit. 

Fast forward to the present, as Nestlé finds itself entangled in yet another ethical spot – the revelation of ‘dangerous’ levels of sugar in its baby food products targeted at developing countries shows Nestlé’s approach to consumer health across geographical divides. 

While affluent markets are offered sugar-free alternatives, those in developing nations are inundated with products laden with excessive sugar, posing grave risks to vulnerable infants.

It speaks to the systemic inequities that permeate the global food industry, where lives are gambled in pursuit of profit margins. From contaminated cough syrups to sugar-laden infant formula, the recurring motif is one of profit prioritization at the expense of human welfare.

Will Nestle and other entities collaborate with regulatory agencies to address the situation and restore public trust?






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