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Indian spice export UPSC NOTE

 Which countries have flagged safety of Indian spices?

  • Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety suspended the sale of three MDH spice blends (Madras curry powder, Sambhar masala and Curry powder masala) and Everest Fish curry masala. 

  • The spice mixes had high levels of ethylene oxide, the regulator said, and advised consumers against purchasing these products. 

  • Days later, Singapore ordered a recall of the Everest spice mix, stating that it is unfit for human consumption

What are the health concerns?

  • MDH and Everest’s spice mixes allegedly contain high levels of EtO, a prohibited pesticide

  • EtO is a colourless, flammable gas that was originally intended for sterilising medical devices. 

  • It is used as a chemical in industrial settings, agriculture, and as a sterilising agent in food products, including spices, dried vegetables and other commodities

  • The chemical lends life to the spice industry — it reduces microbial contamination, and in turn, extends products’ shelf life.

  • However, this process is not always airtight.

  • The improper and excessive use of EtO may leave behind residues, causing toxic and even carcinogenic compounds to form, thus contaminating the product

  • One such compound is ethylene glycol, an ingredient which was found in Indian-made cough syrups that were linked to the deaths of more than 300 children in Cameroon, Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan. 

  • Long-term exposure to ethylene oxide is associated with cancers including lymphoma and leukaemia, some evidence shows.

History of rejections in U.S.

  • A scrutiny of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) import refusal report, for the calendar year 2023, cites at least 30 instances wherein entry was refused because the products appeared to contain salmonella

  • These are agents known to cause salmonellosis — a common bacterial food-borne illness

  • Other than this, there have been at least 11 counts of products being rejected because of misbranding, adulteration, artificial colouring or incorrect labelling

Indian response

  • The Spice Board in India announced a slew of corrective measures including initiating mandatory testing of consignments shipped to Singapore and Hong Kong and gathering technical details and analytical reports from the relevant food and drug agencies. 

  • It also sought to propose corrective measures to the concerned exporters and initiate inspections to ensure adherence to relevant standards. 

  • A circular dated April 30 contains guidelines to exporters on preventing EtO contamination

  • The guidelines prescribe norms for testing at raw and final stages, storage of EtO treated products and use of alternate methods curtailing the use of the chemical compounds. 

  • The Spices Board issued a similar advisory in September 2021, after the EU observed EtO contamination in certain Indian exports. 

  • Furthermore, the FSSAI has directed state regulators to collect samples of major spice brands, including MDH and Everest, to test for EtO

Is food safety in India lacking?

  • Notwithstanding stringent food laws in place, that the recent controversies “collectively underscore the persistent nature of food safety challenges across various sectors of the food industry”.

  • One challenge is operational — India’s diverse food landscape, the lack of standardised record-keeping and intentional food fraud may prevent manufacturers from tracing ingredients and assessing potential risks which compromise the safety of the entire food supply chain. 

  • Traceability is particularly challenging for small and medium sized businesses with limited resources.

  • Some are logistic barriers. 

  • At least 10 States/Union Territories lack government or private notified food testing labs, as mandated under the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006. 

  • These labs are distributed unevenly across regions; have insufficient number of food safety officers; and were found to operate ineffectively due to resource constraints, showed the FSSAI Annual Report of 2021-22. 

  • FSSAI’s operations often lack transparency, which “hinders efforts to meet safety standards”, build accountability and trust

Way Forward

  • Delhi-based think tank Global Trade Research Initiative (GTRI) in a recent note held, “With nearly $700 million worth of exports to critical markets at stake, and potential losses soaring to over half of India’s total spice exports due to cascading regulatory actions in many countries, the integrity and future of India’s spice trade hang in delicate balance.” 

  • According to the think tank, the issue demands urgent attention to uphold the reputation of the entire ecosystem

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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Indian spice export UPSC NOTE
Indian spice export UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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