Current Status of Indian Spice Exports and Recent Contamination Incidents

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Current Status of Indian Spice Exports and Recent Contamination Incidents Blog Image

What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in News?
  • Size of Indian exports
  • Recent incidents of contamination
  • Impact of recall
  • Steps taken by the India

Why in News?

Last month, Hong Kong and Singapore recalled certain spice mix products from MDH and Everest Group due to higher than prescribed levels of the sterilizing agent Ethylene Oxide (ETO).

In response, Indian authorities have initiated several measures to ensure that Indian spices comply with the food safety standards of importing countries.

Size of Indian exports

  • About
    • A quick export estimate data available with the Spices Board India shows that India enjoys a significant share in the global market for spices and spice products. 
  • Statistics
    • In 2023-2024, India exported spices worth $4.4 billion (nearly 14 lakh tonnes), which is 12.3% higher than the financial year 2022-2023. 
  • Products exported
    • Chilli, spice oils and oleoresins, curry powder and paste, cumin, mint products, cardamom and pepper are some of the largest exported spices and spice products in the financial year 2022-2023.
    •  In terms of production, garlic, ginger and chilli were the top three spices produced in FY23.
  • Major export destination
    • India exported spices and spice products to 180 destinations worldwide.
    • China, Bangladesh, west Asian countries and the U.S. are important markets for Indian spices.

Recent incidents of contamination

  • About
    • In May 2024, some spice mixes from the Indian brands Everest and MDH were found to contain ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing chemical, and banned in Singapore and Hong Kong. 
    • The products were recalled and banned in these markets.
  • Source of contamination
    • India does not use Ethylene Oxide (ETO) as a pesticide but as a sterilizing agent to reduce microbial load in finished spice products.
    • Spices and other agricultural products are often contaminated in mandies (auction yards) due to contact with humans, birds, reptiles, and insects. 
    • Large factories receiving materials from these mandies are left with high microbial levels, necessitating the use of ETO sterilization.
    • However, contamination can be reduced early through value addition processes. 
    • Consumers are encouraged to focus on the quality of products, not just their prices, to ensure safer and healthier food choices.

Impact of recall

  • Recall, Not a Ban
    • An official from the Federation of Indian Spice Stakeholders clarified that Singapore and Hong Kong recalled, but did not ban, Indian spice products. 
    • Exports to these countries have resumed, so a significant impact is not expected in the coming months.
  • India’s share in spice production
    • India contributes about 70% of global spice production.
    • Hence, such incidents of contamination will affect India’s image as a spice producer.
  • Varied Standards
    • Countries have different standards for Ethylene Oxide (ETO) and maximum residue levels (MRL). 
      • While ETO is permitted by the U.S., the EU seeks steaming as the method for sterilisation. 
      • But while the cost of using ETO as a sterilising agent is % per kg, for steaming it is 720-225 a kg. 
    • The Indian spice industry is urging the government to negotiate with the EU to relax these stringent norms to enhance Indian spice exports to European markets.
    • Also, the Indian government should lay down achievable guidelines and tell the buying countries about it.

Steps taken by the India

  • Issuance of Protocols
    • Following the recalls by Hong Kong and Singapore, the Spices Board of India issued a detailed protocol to all manufacturing exporters to prevent ETO contamination.
  • Mandatory Testing
    • The Board initiated mandatory testing of spice consignments destined for Singapore and Hong Kong specifically for ETO levels.
  • International Standards
    • The Spices Board has engaged with the international food standards body to address the need for uniform ETO usage limits, as these standards vary across different countries.
  • Consumer Awareness
    • There is an ongoing effort to educate consumers about the importance of quality over price. 
    • By encouraging consumers to focus on the quality of products, there is a push towards higher standards in the spice industry.
  • Industry-Government Collaboration
    • The spice industry and government are working together to ensure that Indian spices comply with the varying standards of different countries, addressing issues specific to each market to prevent future recalls.

Q.1. What is the role of Spice Board in India?

The primary function of the Board includes development of small and large cardamom, promotion, development, regulation of export of spices and control on quality of spices for export.

Q.2. Where is the role of Ethylene Oxide (ETO)?

It is used to make household cleaners and personal care items, create fabrics, and manufacture raw materials into more useful forms. Another important use of ethylene oxide is the sterilization of medical equipment, including personal protective equipment used by health care professionals and hospitals.

Source: What is the current status with respect to spice exports? | Explained | Spice Board