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April 25, 2024

EU Flags Cancer-Causing Chemicals in Over 500 Indian Food Products

The European Union has raised alarm over the presence of cancer-causing chemicals in a significant number of Indian food products. Ethylene oxide, a known carcinogenic compound that prompted bans on Indian goods in Hong Kong and Singapore, has been repeatedly detected in Indian products by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). According to a report by Declan Herald, referencing data from the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), EU food safety authorities discovered contamination in 527 products linked to India between September 2020 and April 2024.

These alarming findings reveal that ethylene oxide contamination was primarily found in nuts, sesame seeds, herbs, spices, and dietetic foods among other items. Out of the 527 products, 87 consignments were rejected at the border, with many others subsequently removed from the markets.

Data from RASFF further disclosed that ethylene oxide was detected in 525 food products and two feed products. While India was identified as the sole country of origin for 332 cases, other countries were implicated in the remaining instances where the chemical was found.

Originally intended for sterilizing medical devices, ethylene oxide is now being used as a pesticide and sterilizing agent. Exposure to this chemical has been linked to various cancers, including lymphoma and leukemia. Jubin George Joseph, Chief Operating Officer at Ramaiah Advanced Testing Labs, emphasized the dangers posed by ethylene glycol, a byproduct of ethylene oxide, which had previously caused deaths in Africa due to its presence in cough syrups.

Joseph also stressed the need to explore safe alternatives, such as gamma-ray treatment, and urged government bodies like the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to conduct studies and encourage industries to adopt such alternatives.

Worryingly, concerns were raised by activists regarding the presence of such chemicals in exported products, emphasizing the importance of stringent safety checks for products in local markets as well.

The EU has set a limit of 0.1 mg/kg for ethylene oxide following concerns over its toxicity and that of its breakdown products. Despite advisories from bodies like the Spices Board in September 2021, which urged exporters to conduct tests, the detection of 121 contaminated products in 2022 and 2023 indicates that Indian products have yet to meet the required quality standards.

Following reports from Hong Kong and Singapore, Indian food authorities also ordered quality checks on MDH and Everest spices in the country. The situation underscores the urgent need for robust regulations, stringent quality control measures, and the adoption of safe alternatives in the Indian food industry to ensure consumer safety and regain trust in the global market.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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