Indian spice giants questioned about pesticide
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Indian spice giants questioned about pesticide

Hong Kong and Singapore withdraw some products made by two firms amid health concerns

Boxes of Everest fish curry masala are stacked on the shelf of a shop at a market in Srinagar, India. (Photo: Reuters)
Boxes of Everest fish curry masala are stacked on the shelf of a shop at a market in Srinagar, India. (Photo: Reuters)

BENGALURU, India - India has started inspecting the facilities of the spice makers MDH and Everest after sales of some of their products were halted in Hong Kong and Singapore for allegedly containing high levels of a cancer-causing pesticide.

The country’s spice exports regulator has asked the two companies to provide details of quality checks.

The companies’ products are hugely popular in India and are exported to countries in Europe, Asia and North America.

Hong Kong this month suspended sales of three MDH spice blends and an Everest spice mix for fish curries. Singapore has also ordered a recall of the Everest spice mix and advised against its consumption.

Indian food authorities ordered quality checks on MDH and Everest spices on Monday.

A senior official at the Spices Board of India, which oversees quality standards and testing guidelines, said the companies had been asked to explain how the products were tested and if all regulations were met.

“We need to get the relevant details on how this has happened. … We need to check if the conditions required by importing countries were met and if our regulations were met,” said the official, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to media.

An executive vice-president for MDH, Rajinder Kumar, declined to comment. Everest did not respond to queries on the Spices Board’s decision.

MDH and Everest are among the biggest players in India’s spices market, which Zion Market Research estimates was worth $10.4 billion in 2022. The Spices Board says the country exported products worth $4 billion during 2022-23.

Everest counts Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan as its brand ambassadors. MDH, founded in the 1930s, rose to popularity with ads and packaging featuring its founder Dharampal Gulati who sported a hook moustache and a turban. Gulati, dubbed India’s “Spice King”, died in 2020.

Everest said in a statement on Tuesday that its spices were safe for consumption and its products were exported “only after receiving necessary clearances and approval from the laboratories of the Spice Board of India”.

Singapore had only held one of 60 Everest products for checks, Rajiv Shah, a director at Everest, said in the statement.

Authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore have said the products contain high levels of ethylene oxide, which is unfit for human consumption, with long exposure a cancer risk.

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