Increasing cases of adulteration and high pesticide residue to impact India’s spice exports?

India has gained worldwide fame as the land of spices. The title does not come as a huge surprise as India is the leading producer, consumer and exporter of spices in the world. The country accounts for 45 percent of the global market for spices. While India no doubt holds an enviable position in the global spices market, there has been a spike in cases regarding adulteration and pesticide. Incidences that can tarnish India’s standing.

Several countries that import from India have already raised the red flag with regards to quality and mixing, especially in jeera (cumin), chilli and pepper. Bhaskar Shah, chairman, Indian Spice and Foodstuff Exporters’ Association (ISFEA), said: “If pesticide and adulteration are not tackled by strict action from both government and industry, we will lost our market.”

Several importing countries have already issued warnings asking spice exporters from India to adhere to the quality norms or risk losing export deals. Spices Board India data shows exports increased by 25 per cent in 2012-13 but by only nine per cent in 2014-15. Is the threat already looming large?

“It is true that adulteration and pesticide issues are major aspects governing the food industry and trade market. All importing countries have their own stringent food laws and regulations to ensure the safety and health of their citizens and exporters have to abide by these,” said A Jayathilak, chairman, Spices Board India.

He went to state that spices from India continue to be in demand due to its superior quality and its India’s quick action when alerts are issued by importing countries. The nation’s image he stresses is untarnished.

Countries such as America, Europe and Japan have tightened the regulatory control of imported spices. The residue limits for pesticides, mycotoxins and microbiological contamination is now extremely low.

Jayathilak says, “The food standards, guidelines and codes of practices on imported items are different for each country. Hence, Indian exporters face an immense challenge.”

Seven state-of-the-art laboratories at top export locations have been set up and several mandatory testing programmes focusing on major food safety issues (presence of pesticide residues, mycotoxins and illegal dyes) in spice export. A centre of excellence to analyse pesticide residues and microbiological contamination will soon be established within the board’s laboratory in Mumbai.

Despite the measures in place, the spice industry is of the opinion that the government needs to do more. “Adulteration and pesticides are the major concern. So far, importing countries have not taken major steps for India, other than tightening the rules. If we will not deliver quality products, it could be a big threat,” said Yogesh Mehta, managing director of Spicexim.

Traders and exporters have convened to decide on remedial measures. To do away the issue of excessive pesticide residue the industry has decided to work with farmers and choose scientists to educate them. A Seed and Spice Stakeholder Association (SSSA) has now been formed.

The board is also looking to promote organic farming of spices. Various schemes have been launched specifically for ginger, turmeric, herbal spices, seed spices and chillies which aim to aid farmers in obtaining organic certification. Quality improvement training programmes for farmers will also be conducted across all regions.

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