Adulteration, pesticides pose threat to India’s global standing in spices
Several importing countries have already raised complaints about poor quality jeera, chilli and pepper
While India may be enjoying pole position in the globalspices market with nearly 45 per cent share, rising cases of adulteration and presence of pesticides in outbound shipments of the commodity are posing a threat to the country’s standing. Several importing countries have already raised complaints about the quality of spices, especially jeera (cumin), chilli and pepper.
Bhaskar Shah, chairman of Indian Spice and Foodstuff Exporters’ Association (ISFEA) said, "Currently, India has a market share of about 45 per cent and if issues ofpesticide and adulteration are not tackled, this could go down over the next few years. Both government and industry have to take strict action, otherwise we will lose our market globally."
Importing countries have begun warning exporters in India to serve quality products and tighten quality control rules or lose business. As per Spices Board India data, exports increased by 25 per cent in 2012-13, but dropped by nine per cent in 2014-15.
"It is true that adulteration and pesticides are major aspects governing the food industry and trade market. Food safety and sustainability are the key words ruling the global market. All importing countries have their own stringent food laws and regulations to maintain quality standards of products imported to ensure the safety and health of their citizens and the exporters have to abide with these rules," said A Jayathilak, chairman, Spices Board.
According to Jayathilak, there persists a continuous international demand for Indian spices owing to their superior quality. India has also been able to maintain a good image in the world market thus far by taking rapid action to sort out the alerts received from the importing countries.
There has been increased awareness of food safety issues all over the world in recent years, especially in developed countries such as the US, Japan and those belonging to the European Union. Hence regulatory control of imported spices in these countries has become stricter, with extremely low maximum residue limits imposed for pesticide residues, mycotoxins and also for microbiological contamination.
These are applicable to all countries that export spices, since India is one of the biggest exporters of spices in the world with the rate of spice exports growing steadily, the impact of these strict regulations felt by the Indian exporters might be proportionately larger.
Jayathilak said, "The food standards, guidelines and codes of practices on imported items formulated to protect the health of its citizens are different for each country. Hence due to lack of uniformity in the regulatory standards for importing spices, the Indian spice exporters face immense challenge to assort their consignments to meet the quality standards in accordance to the importing countries."
At present, there are three important concerns with respect to export of spices including pathogens, pesticide residues and mycotoxins. Spices Board has taken extensive measures for the control of these issues. Firstly, the Board has established seven state-of-the-art laboratories at the major export locations in India. Secondly, the Board has implemented mandatory testing programs covering the major food safety issues (presence of pesticide residues, mycotoxins and illegal dyes like Sudan), for the export of spices from India.
The establishment of a Centre of Excellence in analysis of pesticide residues and microbiological contamination in spices is already in progress at the Board’s laboratory in Mumbai.
However, the Spices Board is confident that the issues would be addressed, though the industry still believes that more efforts needed from government side and within the industry.
"Adulteration and pesticides are the major concern for the spice industry. 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 said Yogesh Mehta, managing director of Spicexim.
To address the issue, recently traders and exporters met to take remedial measures. Also to reduce the pesticide problem in spices, the industry planning to collaborate with farmers and appoint scientists to educate farmers in this regard. Spice traders and exporters have come together to form a new body called ‘Seed and Spice Stakeholder Association’ (SSSA).
Ashwin Nayak, a director on the board of SSSA, "We are now going to form special task force to find out adulteration. Board meeting of the association will soon meet for that."
Jayathilak said, "For reducing the issues of adulteration and pesticides in spices, the issue has to be communicated to all stakeholders of spice industry and the reform for production of clean and safe spices has to begin from the basic level of industry."
Spices Board has always promoted farmers to adopt organic farming in spice cultivation. The Spices Board has implemented various scheme heads under developmental programs for promoting organic cultivation of spices like ginger, turmeric, herbal spices, seed spices and chillies and provides assistance to organic farmers for obtaining organic certification.
The quality improvement training programs for farmers are conducted in all regions to impart the necessity of production of clean and safe spices, the monetary benefits obtained on the production and sale of pesticide free spices.