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Recall of Indian spices may have ripple effect, global trade think tank says

Recent cases of recall and rejection of Indian spice shipments may affect exports to the tune of $700 million, GTRI think tank said

Recall of Indian spices may have ripple effect, global trade think tank says
[Source photo: Chetan Jha]

Recent cases of recall and rejection of Indian spice shipments to Hong Kong, Singapore, the US, and Australia may affect exports to the tune of $700 million, the Global Trade Research Initiative (GTRI) think tank said in a recent report.

Last month, Hong Kong and Singapore banned the sale of popular brands MDH and Everest after detecting carcinogenic ethylene oxide (ETO) in their products. This led to a mandatory recall from shelves. The Maldives also banned MDH and Everest spices after similar findings.

The US FDA, meanwhile, is investigating the Indian spice makers after Hong Kong and Singapore halted sales, Indian media reported.

If China is influenced by regulatory actions in Hong Kong and the ASEAN grouping by the the precedents set by Singapore, India may face a dramatic downturn in its spice exports, the think tank warned.

The continued rejections of the spice brands, despite denials of wrongdoing, should have raised alarms at both the Spices Board and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the private research body said, calling on all stakeholders to step up. 

After facing global flak, both the Spices Board and FSSAI began routine sampling, yet these or any other government agencies have issued no definitive statements about spice quality, the GTRI report said, while calling out the “tepid and formulaic response” by Indian authorities.  

In fiscal 2024, India’s spice exports totaled $4.25 billion, accounting for a 12% share of the global spice exports. The significant spices exported from India involve chilli powder, which topped the list with $1.3 billion in exports, followed by cumin at $550 million.

The primary markets for Indian spices were China at $928 million, the US at $574 million, and Bangladesh at $339 million. Other big buyers include the UAE ($256 million), Thailand ($193 million), Malaysia ($147 million), Indonesia ($137 million), UK($122 million), Australia ($63 million), Singapore ($50 million), and Hong Kong ($5.5 million).

If the export quality of products from top Indian firms is questionable, it casts doubt on the integrity of spices available in the Indian market as well, GTRI said.

If the European Union (EU) follows suit, an EU-wide rejection will entail an additional loss of $2.5 billion, bringing the total potential loss to 58.8% of India’s worldwide spice exports, the GTRI report projected. 

The report highlighted primary violations in these incidents, including the use of ethylene oxide, a carcinogenic fumigating agent, and salmonella contamination, a frequent bacterial source of foodborne illness.

These substances pose significant health risks such as cancer and severe gastrointestinal distress. Additionally, violations concerning pesticide residues and noncompliance with maximum residue limits were noted, further compromising food safety.


Kaumudi Kashikar-Gurjar is an Associate Editor at Press Insider. Based in Pune, Kaumudi is a resourceful writer and a trained multimedia journalist who covers business and economy. Formerly the bureau chief at Sakal Times and Mid Day, Kaumudi has written extensively on politics and governance over her career spanning 20 years for publications including the Pune Mirror. More

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