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According to FISS, inaction might affect 40% of India’s exports of spices

The Federation of Indian Spice Stakeholders (FISS), based in Unjha, Gujarat, made the following claim in response to the recent suspension of sales of certain MDH and Everest products in Singapore and Hong Kong: if prompt action is not taken regarding the allowable limits of Ethylene Oxide, Indian spice exports could decline by approximately 40% in FY25. Additionally, FISS asked that the government act sensibly in order to prevent the problem from becoming worse.

 

Due to samples having greater levels of ethylene oxide than allowed, Singapore and Hong Kong have stopped selling various items made by Indian spice businesses MDH and Everest. In response, U Karthik, Co-Chairman of FISS, stated: “Ethylene Oxide (EtO) is permitted to suppress or eliminate bacteria found in spices and other food items. Only authorized entities are permitted to treat patients with EtO; licenses for its usage are granted by the government regulating authority. The product is exposed to air only after it has been adequately treated and after a specific amount of cooling time. Moreover, EtO has a boiling point of 10 degrees Celsius, meaning that it is essentially harmless and exists at ambient temperature as a gas.

“Ethylene oxide is used for sterilisation of agricultural products and medical equipment that are also used for operating on human bodies in India,” said Ashwin K. Nayak, Chairman, FISS. Not only does the Crop Corporation of India not classify EtO as a pesticide. The sector is asking the government to establish fair boundaries for the amount of EtO so that exporters may make appropriate plans.

Regarding the carcinogenic nature of EtO, Karthik said, “EtO sterilisation is cost-effective and high-quality.” Steam sterilization costs around Rs 13–15 per kg, whereas EtO sterilisation costs about Rs 3 per kg. The spices’ ability to maintain their flavor, color, fragrance, and other attributes is further aided by EtO sterilization. Undoubtedly, EtO is on the International Agency for Research in Cancer’s list of Group 1 carcinogens; however, the same list also includes substances that are directly absorbed, such as tobacco and alcohol. We now need to be aware of the limit and degree of EtO tolerance in our eating habits.

It might be interesting to note that certain nations, like the USA (7 mg/kg), Singapore (50 mg/kg), and EU (0.10 mg/kg), have set limits on the amount of EtO that is permitted; other nations, like Germany, have outright banned it; and still other nations, like China, India, and Hong Kong, have no set limit on EtO contamination. Between 45% and 85% of spices in the United States are treated with ethylene oxide (ETO), according to estimates from the American Spice Trade Association (ASTA). According to statistics from the DGCI&S and RBI, India exported spices worth $3.67 billion up till February 2024. The EU, USA, China, and the Middle East were the top export destinations for Indian spices.

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