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“Uniform standards would help improve trade in spices”
Monday, 07 October, 2013, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
India’s Sanjay Dave who is an advisor to FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India), is enjoying his third stint as the Chairperson of Codex Alimentarius Commission. Among his major achievements at the world food standards body is the approval for setting up of a new Codex subsidiary body, the Codex Committee on Spices and Culinary Herbs. The Commission has agreed that India should host this Committee. In a long-winding chat with Priyanka Dhomse over the telephone, the Codex chief elaborates on the world spice industry, its standing in the world trade and growth strategies going forward. Excerpts:

In your third stint as Codex chairperson, what issues will you be focussing on?
Being Chairperson of Codex, my focus will be on food safety at the international level, to make the standards in collaboration with all the countries and stakeholders, so as to ensure the safety and health of people in all countries, not only in developed countries but also in developing countries. While doing so, my focus will be on building capacity in developing countries, so that they are able to have a meaningful participation in Codex and ensure that these countries are able to contribute to Codex.

Whatever standards have to be made, FAO and WHO should be able to find the money for scientific risk assessment. Currently, there is some constraint concerning availability of funds for scientific advice. FAO and WHO are looking at alternative sources for funds for scientific advice. We are also working on the communication strategy for Codex, for promoting Codex, spreading awareness, and having a logo for Codex. If all the countries harmonise their standards with Codex, international trade will be benefited.

What role would the Codex Committee play in making India a dominant player in the global spice and culinary herb market?
The aim of Codex is to develop quality standards for spices. There was no Codex subsidiary body for spices and culinary herbs and we learnt that there were variable standards for these products across trading partners. Spices are used in every country. India is one of the major producer of spices and culinary herbs. So with the help of this (spice) committee, we will be able to have international Codex standards. It is noteworthy that 96% of the world spice production is in the developing countries, so the biggest advantage is, there will be a lot of sensitisation for good practices and maintenance of quality standards, which will help to improve the trade quality of spices, for all countries, including India.

What safety standards need to be taken into consideration while exporting Indian spices to other countries?
There is a difference between quality standards and safety standards. As far as safety standards are concerned, the Codex Committee on Spices and Culinary Herbs, will be concerned only with quality standards and not with safety standards. The focus will be to frame quality standards. As far as the quality is concerned, it deals with issues like physical characteristics, uniformity in colour, size, appearance, and packaging, which come under quality parameters.

Safety parameters concentrate on issues like pesticides residues, microbiological or other contamination, or any disease, which can harm human health. So the Codex Committee will focus on framing the quality standards, but while framing the same, it will give reference to safety standards, for example, there are safety standards for spices in the Food Hygiene Committee, Pesticide Residues’ Committee, Contaminants’ Committee. So whenever quality standards will be made they will give reference to safety standards for spices, by sending the documents to such committees. The draft documents will also be sent Food Additives Committee, Labelling Committee and the Committee for Methods of Analysis and Sampling.

To what extent will the Codex Committee on Spices help to meet the needs of spice manufacturers and exporters in India?
The committee will give good sensitisation to farmers of spices who are indulging in spices’ agricultural practices.  It will also promote manufacturers and exporters to improve the packaging and production for the domestic market and exports in a standardised manner and produce good quality spices.

This will improve the health, quality and safety aspects of spices and give better revenue for exports, not only for producers in India, but also for other countries.

What is the impact of the devaluation of the Indian rupee on spices’ exports?
The export of spices is expected to benefit, as the rupee realisation will increase. The devaluation of the rupee might adversely affect the import of spices.

What other obstacles is the country's spice industry facing in the international market?
The biggest obstacle for countries is the variation of standards across different countries, that need to be followed for trade in spices. So if there are uniform standards under Codex then all the countries are likely to harmonise their national standards with Codex and in that case, it will help to improve international trade in spices.

What strategy has been adopted by the Codex Committee on Spices? What plans has it formulated for the future?
The Codex Committee on Spices has to frame its strategy as the committee has just been formed, so the first meeting would be held in Cochin, where the committee would prepare the plan and strategy. Since it is an international committee, the meeting would be attended by representatives from several countries and they would collectively take a decision.

What measures can be taken at the national level to avoid the recall of exported spices from India?
The Spices Board of India and the exporters of spices should implement programmes like Good Agricultural Practices, programme for pesticide residue monitoring, programme for monitoring of contamination due to mycotoxins, colour, microbiological contamination, and pesticide residues. They should have the system in place to implement a monitoring programme for such contamination and this should be done at the farmer level. Though the Spices Board is working with farmers to improve the farming conditions of the spices by implementing the good agricultural practices, but it needs to happen on large scale and they should also implement the traceability system, which will help to prove that the spices are of good quality, and if there is a complaint they can argue saying their product is safe.

In order to improve the production and exports of spices, I would suggest the manufacturers and exporters to attend the discussions at the national level for presenting their views and they should implement best practices at all stages of the value chain that will help to increase the growth of export and improve the quality of spices in future.
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