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Regulatory Implications of Banning Indian Spices: Past, Present, and Future

Regulatory Implications of Banning Indian Spices: Past, Present, and Future

June 10.2024

Divyanshi Rawat
Compliance Executive (Food Division)

Introduction

Food safety is a paramount concern globally, and the recent bans on Indian spices by countries like Singapore and Hong Kong highlight the complex regulatory landscape that exporters must navigate. Spices such as Everest and MDH, particularly Meat Masala, Sambhar Masala, Fish Masala, and Garam Masala, have been scrutinized due to their ethylene oxide (ETO) levels, leading to significant economic and reputational impacts. This blog explores the history, current situation, and future implications of these regulatory actions.

What is ETO and MRL?

Ethylene oxide (ETO) is a chemical commonly used in the food industry to sterilize and reduce microbial loads. While effective in eliminating bacteria, yeast, and molds, its residues can be toxic. Regulatory bodies set Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) to ensure that any ETO residues in food products remain within safe limits.

Different countries have varying tolerance levels for ETO. For instance, the European Union allows a maximum of 0.02-0.1 mg per kg, while the United States and Canada permit up to 7 mg per kg. This discrepancy complicates international trade, as exporters must comply with multiple standards to maintain market access.

Regulatory Actions and Responses

In response to concerns raised by the presence of ETO residues in spices, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has increased the default limit for pesticide residues in spices to 0.1 mg/kg, a ten-fold increase from the previous limit of 0.01 mg/kg. This adjustment applies only in cases where specific MRLs are not set by Indian regulations.

Historical Context

The issue of spice safety is not new. In 2022, the European Union imposed restrictions on Indian spices due to high pesticide residues. Similarly, in 2023, Saudi Arabia banned Indian chillies over concerns of excessive pesticide residues and high capsaicin levels, which posed health risks. These instances underscore the importance of adhering to international food safety standards.

Recent Developments

In 2024, Singapore and Hong Kong banned the import of certain Indian spices, including popular brands Everest and MDH, due to concerns over ETO levels. This ban has had significant implications for Indian exporters, who faced halted shipments and financial losses.

To address these challenges, the Spices Board of India issued detailed protocols to prevent ETO contamination, initiated mandatory testing for ETO levels in spice consignments, and engaged with international food standards bodies to advocate for uniform ETO usage limits. Additionally, there has been a push to educate consumers about the importance of quality over price and to enhance collaboration between the spice industry and government to ensure compliance with varying international standards.

Testing and Adulteration

To ensure the safety and quality of spices, several simple tests can detect adulteration:

Outcomes and Future Implications

The bans and recalls have prompted significant changes in the Indian spice industry. Key outcomes include:

Conclusion

The regulatory implications of banning Indian spices highlight the need for continuous improvement in food safety practices. As countries enforce stringent standards, it is crucial for exporters to stay informed and comply with varying regulations to maintain global market access. The collaborative efforts between the spice industry and regulatory bodies are essential in addressing these challenges and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Indian spice market.

By enhancing quality control measures, adhering to international standards, and educating consumers, the Indian spice industry can navigate the complexities of global trade and continue to thrive. The lessons learned from recent bans can serve as a catalyst for positive change, ultimately benefiting both producers and consumers.

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