India's spice export may fall 40 pc if ETO issue not resolved quickly: FISS

In 2023-24, India's spice exports totalled USD 4.25 billion, accounting for a 12 per cent share of global spice exports

Representative image
Representative image


The Federation of Indian Spice Stakeholders (FISS) on Friday said India's spice export may decline nearly 40 per cent in FY25 if the issue of ethylene oxide (ETO) contamination in spices meant for exports is not addressed at the earliest.

The statement came against the backdrop of Hong Kong and Singapore banning the sale of popular Indian brands MDH and Everest after detecting the carcinogenic chemical in their products last month, leading to a mandatory recall from shelves.

Nepal's department of food technology and quality control has also banned the import, consumption and sale of Everest and MDH spices as it starts testing for ethylene oxide levels. "Everest and MDH brand spices being imported in Nepal have been banned from import. This comes after the news about traces of harmful chemicals in the spices," department spokesperson Mohan Krishna Maharjan said.

In 2023-24, India's spice exports totalled USD 4.25 billion, accounting for a 12 per cent share of global spice exports.

"A lot of exporters have orders on their hands and they have been halted to an extent after that episode. As per our estimate, spice exports could be affected by 40 per cent of the volume this year if the issue is not resolved quickly," said FISS secretary Tejas Gandhi, heading an association of nearly 600 spice traders, exporters and farmers from across the country.

Addressing a press conference on the issue, FISS chairman Ashwin Nayak said misinformation is being spread about ETO, which according to him is widely used across the world, and Indian firms have been exporting ETO-treated spices to the US for nearly 30 to 40 years.

"ETO is not a pesticide which is directly sprayed on crops. It is a gaseous agent used only by approved organisations to remove or control harmful microbiological and bacterial elements in spices, such as E.coli, coliform, aflatoxins and yeast. This is a widely used technique in most parts of the world," Nayak told the media.

"India's spice exports are valued at USD 4 billion. We urge the Indian government to take immediate steps to ensure that export shipments are not stopped because of some myths spread about ETO treatment. We urge the Spice Board to test samples from each shipment to ensure that it meets the criteria of every country," he said.

According to FISS co-chairman U. Karthik, most countries have set their own maximum residue limit (MRL) for ETO. For example, the US allows spices with 7 ppm (parts per million), while the same is 0.1 for European Union countries.

"ETO evaporates at 10ºC and is not harmful for humans. Notably, ETO is also used for the sterilisation of medical equipment. While some countries have already set an MRL, many did not. We learned that the Spice Board is contacting those countries to fix a limit," Karthik said.

Gandhi said the issue of ETO is not as serious as has been projected in the media. "When Hong Kong has not set any MRL, how can they say ETO was more than the prescribed limit? Though steam sterilisation is an alternative to ETO, the cost is very high. While ETO can be done for Rs 3 per kg, steam sterilisation costs nearly Rs 15 per kg. Even the US has units which conduct ETO sterilisation for spices," he said.

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Published: 17 May 2024, 8:05 PM