In charts: India’s spices exports raise a stink abroad

Spices command close to 10% share in India’s agriculture exports basket.
Spices command close to 10% share in India’s agriculture exports basket.


  • India’s broader food exports segment has been dogged by quality concerns. The US and EU have pulled up food exports for various pathogen and toxin related violations, putting a question mark on the safety of the foods and spices we consume.

India's food safety regulator has ordered nationwide testing and inspections at all companies making spice mixes, Reuters reported on Thursday. The move by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India comes at a time when the country’s popular spice brands are under scrutiny for quality-related concerns after Hong Kong and Singapore banned certain readymade spices from MDH and Everest—considered household names in India for spicing up our daily food palette.

The development is not good news for the world’s largest spice producer and consumer. India exported spices worth $4.2 billion last fiscal, a 12.3% on-year growth. China, the US, the United Arab Emirates, and Thailand were among the top export destinations for Indian spices. Spices command close to 10% share in India’s agriculture exports basket.

Yet, the segment—and India’s broader food exports segment—has been dogged by quality concerns for long now. India’s food exports to the US had the most pathogen-related violations with 5,115 food products being rejected by the US between 2002 and 2019, accounting for 22.9% of overall import refusals, according to official US data. These violations were primarily from contamination of salmonella, a harmful bacterium that can make a person sick.

In the last year alone, the European Union, known for its strict food quality standards, rejected 141 food consignments originating from India based on risk factors, shows a Mint analysis of the EU regulatory data. Consignments related to herbs and spices (40), nuts (37), fruits and spices (21) and bakery products (20) were among the top violators and the Netherlands, Sweden, France and Italy were among the top countries that rejected these shipments. Several products were also found contaminated with ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing substance that is in the middle of the current controversy.

Meanwhile, the Spices Board, which falls under the commerce ministry and is responsible for testing and certification of export consignments of select spices (chilli, chilli products and turmeric), remains short-staffed. Over a third of the sanctioned staff strength (379) remains vacant and the number of quality testing labs remain too few compared to the vast expanse of exports.

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