Responding to recent rejections on specific spice exports by Singapore and Hong Kong due to Ethylene Oxide (EtO) presence, the Indian spice industry, has urged immediate action to address concerns around food safety and export quality standards.

The industry - comprising All India Spices Exporters Forum, Indian Spice & Foodstuff Exporters Association, Indian Pepper & Spice Trade Association, and Federation of Indian Spice Stakeholders - has emphasised the urgent need, to allow ETO treatment for spices within the country to align with the stringent quality requirements of importing nations.

Last year, India exported 14.26 lakh tonnes of spices valued at approximately $4.2 billion, contributing significantly to forex earnings, due to its superior quality and diversity of spice varieties. Even when Indian spice exports are being shipped in large quantities, less than 1 per cent, faces recall issues. It should also be noted that spice exports from India to Singapore and Hong Kong have not been banned, as has wrongly been reported by some sections of the media, industry sources said.

Tackling microbial contamination

If Indian exporters are not permitted to supply ETO treated spices, it will have a detrimental effect on the country’s position in the global spice market, Sanjeev Bisht, Chairman, AISEF said.

“The industry addressed misconceptions surrounding ETO and emphasised that it is not a pesticide, but, is a sterilising agent, crucial for containing and minimising microbial contamination, and life-threatening pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli, present in spices and food products”, he added.

Exporters’ forum, highlighted the safety and efficacy of ETO treatment, citing its permissible use in several countries, including the US, where, it is employed to sterilise food items, to control food-borne pathogens. Disallowing ETO treatment, could lead to increased risks of microbiological pathogens, non-compliance with regulations, and product recalls in importing countries, potentially jeopardising India’s market share.

US industry’s letter

The American Spice Trade Association, in its letter to the Spices Board, asserted that ETO is currently permitted for use on spices in the United States. The US spice industry, relies on ETO sterilisation, as one of the primary methods to comply with FDA regulations, Exporters forum said.

Emmanuel Nambusseril, Vice Chairman, AISEF, emphasised the need for a scientific risk assessment of Ethylene Oxide, to establish Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) ensuring the safety of end consumers using spice products. The industry remains dedicated to working closely with regulatory authorities, and industry stakeholders to uphold the quality and safety standards of Indian spice exports, he said.