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Are the Recent Headlines Over Indian Masalas Making You Anxious?

The headlines have been very disturbing, especially to the billion and a half Indians spread all over the world for whom spices (masala) is religion. Imagine an Indian meal without masala, and there you have the recipe for deep depression!

Carcinogenic Contaminants in Imported Indian Masalas

Recent media reports have revealed that huge quantities of imported Indian masala by a couple of well-known brands have been declared unfit by the authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore due to the presence of a known carcinogenic compound called ethylene oxide above the acceptable limits. Ethylene oxide raises the risk of break cancer and lymphoma.

EU Flags Hundreds of Food Products for Harmful Contaminants

Bad news does not come in one installment. In the wake of the bans imposed by Hong Kong and Singapore, comes the news that the EU had flagged over 527 food products including masalas during the period 2019 to 2024 for the presence of harmful contaminants. Products that were flagged by EU or refused entry contained dangerous levels of known carcinogens like lead, cadmium, mercury, besides elevated levels of pesticides and fungicides.

The Fallout: Controversy and Concern in India

These reports have set off a storm of controversy across India and much consternation among the billions who use them every day of their lives. South Asian populations are the biggest consumers of spices in the world. The Indian subcontinent produce and consume a huge chunk of the spices grown today. Besides the high levels of home country consumption, it also offers a lucrative market abroad. India alone consumes over US$10 billion worth of spices annually and earns an export income of US$4 billion from spices.


Naturally, the reports came as a shock to most people who never questioned the origins and quality of the spices they consumed, trusting in the already established checks and balances in place in these producing countries. The situation has changed dramatically. India has ordered investigations into the manufacturing units to verify if the reports are true. India’s regulatory authority overseeing food quality, known as FISSAI (Food Safety & Standards Authority of India), has already instructed its officers to start collecting
samples from factories across India to test for the presence of disproportionate levels of ethylene oxide in their products.

Ensuring Safety and Trust in Spices

As a developing nation with a keen focus on its image, these proactive measures initiated by India are welcome. Excepting a small percentage of the South Asians who choose the healthier organic option, a vast majority must put their trust intrinsically in the products they buy. They have a right to be assured that in their sincere quest to add taste to their lives, they are not consuming toxins.

The Importance of Chemical-Free Masalas

It is critical for all stakeholders to ensure that the masalas are largely chemicals free, or if present, they do not pose a major health hazard like cancer, because these colourful and aromatic powders are an inseparable part of our lifestyle. We consume them each and every day of our lives, except maybe as infants. So, any adulteration or presence of these harmful chemicals build up in the human body that could someday be a trigger for serious illnesses.

Global Scrutiny and the Future of Spices

The global headlines will likely bring all spices and other food products under closer scrutiny by importing countries, including Canada. Checking to ensure that the foods that we ingest are free of dangerous chemicals is a noble mission. At the same time, we hope that this is not used as an excuse to burden the industry with unnecessary procedures and processes that would threaten its very existence. After all, organic or natural alternatives while easily available come at slightly higher price points and not every consumer is in a position or motivated enough to make the shift to healthier, safer products. There is no need to be alarmed at this point and you can still continue to buy your masalas from your favourite grocery stores.

Organic and Natural Alternatives: A Better Option

While ethylene oxide has occupied centre stage during the current controversy, there are far worse offenders that we need to be aware of. And such foods are present all over the world. Unfortunately, we tend to ignore their presence in proportions perceived to be dangerous for human health. Residues of widely used pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals present in the food chain carry the potential of damaging human health when consumed indiscriminately.

Making Informed Choices as Consumers

An average consumer, in the meanwhile, will not have too many choices in their buying decisions. But it would be a good idea to make yourself aware, stay abreast of the headlines, and take action wherever possible. Natural is always a better option. Organic even better. India, while being scrutinized for food quality thanks to the headlines, is also one of the major sources of pure organic foods and other products to the world today. While there might have been an occasional lapse in the past, most products labelled organic or natural, must go through a rigorous quality control regime in both the originating country as well as wherever they are distributed.

A Call for Awareness and Action

Instead of getting anxious, it is an easier option for the average family to introduce into diet small quantities foods that are wholesome and thus reduce the intake of harmful elements that cling to food thanks to the modern agricultural and processing methods. Choice is entirely yours.

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