India’s spice export may fall 40 pc if EtO contamination issue not resolved quickly: FISS

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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 or 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 brands MDH and Everest after detecting carcinogenic chemical ethylene oxide in their products, leading to a mandatory recall from shelves. In 2023-24, India’s spice exports totalled USD 4.25 billion, accounting for 12 per cent share of global spice exports. “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 Tejas Gandhi, Secretary of FISS, 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 that misinformation is being spread about EtO, which according to him, is widely used across the world and Indian firms are exporting EtO-treated spices to the US for nearly 30 to 40 years now. “EtO is not a pesticide which is directly sprayed on crops. EtO is an gaseous agent used only by approved organisations to remove or control harmful microbiological and bacterial elements from the spices, such as E. coli, coliform, aflatoxins and yeast. This is a widely used technique in most parts of the world,” Nayak told reporters. “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 the co-chairman of FISS, U Karthik, most countries have set their own maximum residue limit (MRL) of EtO. For example, the US allows spices with 7 ppm (parts per million), while the same is 0.1 for the European Union countries. “EtO gets evaporated at 10 degrees centigrade and it is not harmful for humans. Notably, EtO is also used for the sterilisation of medical equipment too. While some countries have already set an MRL limit, many did not. We learnt 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 it was projected in the media. “When Hong Kong has not set any MRL limit, how can they say that 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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