Indian court overturns Nestle noodle ban, orders new tests

MUMBAI - An Indian court on Thursday overturned a government ban on Nestle's hugely popular Maggi noodles brand, but ordered further tests before the product can go back on sale.

Nestle had gone to the court to challenge the nationwide ban ordered by India's food safety watchdog in June after tests by some states found lead levels exceeded statutory limits.

The Swiss food giant has always maintained the product is safe to eat, and has continued to sell it in other countries.

In its judgement, the high court in the western city of Mumbai called the ban "arbitrary" and said it violated the "principles of national justice".

"We have examined the evidence in great detail. Since the petitioner Nestle has already agreed not to make and sell Maggi until the food authorities are satisfied, we see no reason to allow any relief to food authorities," Justice Vidyasagar Kanade told the court.

"We direct that Nestle send five samples from each batch of Maggi for testing to three labs and only if the lead is found to be lower than permitted will they start manufacturing and sale again."

The ruling came a day after India said it was seeking damages of nearly US$100 million (S$140 million) from Nestle India for "unfair trade practices" in relation to the noodles, one of the country's most popular convenience foods.