Indian Spice Exports Face Scrutiny Amid Contamination Concerns

At least five countries, including Singapore, Hong Kong, and the US, have launched investigations into possible contamination of Indian spice mixes sold by top brands MDH and Everest. The probes cite the presence of ethylene oxide, a toxic chemical, beyond permissible limits in the spice blends.

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Rafia Tasleem
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Indian Spice Exports Face Scrutiny Amid Contamination Concerns

Indian Spice Exports Face Scrutiny Amid Contamination Concerns

A crisis of confidence has hit the Indian spice export industry as at least five countries, including Singapore, Hong Kong, and the U.S., have launched investigations into possible contamination of spice mixes sold by top Indian brands MDH and Everest. The complaints cite the presence of ethylene oxide, a toxic chemical used as a food stabilizer, beyond permissible limits.

Why this matters: The contamination scandal has far-reaching implications for India's reputation as a reliable exporter of spices, which could impact the country's economy and trade relationships. Moreover, it highlights the need for stricter quality control measures to ensure the safety of consumers globally.

Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety suspended the sale of three MDH spice blends on April 5, citing high levels of ethylene oxide. Singapore ordered a recall of the Everest spice mix, stating that ethylene oxide is a pesticide not authorized for use in food, posing a cancer risk if exposed for too long. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is gathering additional information about the situation.

Regulatory bodies in Maldives, Australia, and Bangladesh have announced similar plans to investigate and take action if necessary. The spice mixes flagged in question are manufactured by Everest and MDH, major players in India's spice export industry. The top three importers of India's curry powders and mixtures in the fiscal year 2022-23 include the U.S. (₹196.2 crore), U.A.E. (₹170.6 crore), and U.K. (₹124.9 crore).

ETO is a colorless, flammable gas used as a chemical in industrial settings, agriculture, and as a sterilizing agent in food products, including spices, dried vegetables, and other commodities. The improper and excessive use of ETO may leave behind residues, causing toxic and even carcinogenic compounds to form, thus contaminating the product. Long-term exposure to ethylene oxide is associated with cancers, including lymphoma and leukemia.

The Spices Board of India has initiated mandatory testing of products shipped abroad and is working with exporters to identify the root cause of contamination. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is facing demands to ensure stringent quality checks on spices and curry powders sold in domestic markets. MDH has called allegations over ETO contamination "baseless and unsubstantiated," stating that they do not use ethylene oxide at any stage of storing, processing, or packing their spices.

The international scrutiny has inflicted reputational damage to India's spice export trade, with associated bans and closerscrutinyof its products overseas. India is the world's largest exporter of spices, with a 12% share of global spice exports. The country's agri-based industry relies heavily on pesticides and chemicals, which often lead to contamination issues. As the investigation continues, the livelihoods of countless farmers, manufacturers, and exporters hang in the balance, underscoring the urgent need for stricter quality assurance protocols and enhanced transparency in the supply chain.

Key Takeaways

  • 5 countries, including US, Singapore, and Hong Kong, investigate Indian spice exports for ethylene oxide contamination.
  • MDH and Everest spice mixes found to have excessive levels of toxic chemical, posing cancer risk.
  • India's reputation as reliable spice exporter at risk, impacting economy and trade relationships.
  • Stricter quality control measures needed to ensure consumer safety globally.
  • Indian authorities initiate testing and investigation to identify root cause of contamination.