India tells spice makers to verify quality after Hong Kong allegations

Boxes of Everest fish curry masala are stacked on the shelf of a shop at a market in Srinagar

By Chris Thomas and Rishika Sadam

BENGALURU/HYDERABAD (Reuters) -India's spice exports regulator has asked MDH and Everest to provide details of quality checks after sales of some of their products were halted in Hong Kong for allegedly containing high levels of a cancer-causing pesticide.

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 on Tuesday that the companies have 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, while 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 $10.44 billion in 2022. The Spices Board says the South Asian nation exported products worth $4 billion during 2022-23.

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

Earlier on Tuesday, Everest said in a statement 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.

(Reporting by Rishika Sadam in Hyderabad; Writing by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Christina Fincher)