The colour of chilli

FRANCE may have rejected consignments of chilli powder from India because a banned carcinogenic colouring matter -- Sudan red 1 -- was detected. The European Commission (EC) may have introduced more stringent measures to prevent such goods from entering its market. And the Spices Board India may have axed the exporters responsible for the contamination. But first question first: what was a banned substance doing in the chilli powder?

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- FRANCE may have rejected consignments of chilli powder from India because a banned carcinogenic colouring matter -- Sudan red 1 -- was detected. The European Commission (EC) may have introduced more stringent measures to prevent such goods from entering its market. And the Spices Board India may have axed the exporters responsible for the contamination. But first question first: what was a banned substance doing in the chilli powder?

The banned colouring matter Sudan red 1 is a chemical dye. Even the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955, of India prohibits the presence of any colouring matter (not even food grade colours) in chilli powder sold in India. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the French and the EC took the steps they did. They acted in their interest. They had an obligation to protect the health of their people.

But, it has now become a regular mantra of the export fraternity to cry foul over measures taken by developed countries on sanitary and phytosanitary grounds. We have also many a times criticised such measures as non-tariff barriers. At times such arguments are legitimate. But surely not all the time?

This time it certainly isn't. Our own domestic rules prohibit the presence of any colouring matter in chilli powder. So there is no logical reason for exportable products to be contaminated. It is not justifiable.

What is scarier is that the use of the carcinogenic dye in chilli powder made and sold in India is rampant. It is frightening to learn that some of the traders use the dye believing that it is a permitted "food grade" colour. Even worse, contamination doesn't end with chilli powder. In recent times, export consignments of several other products have also been rejected due to the presence of various banned substances. Seedless grapes and table grapes in consignments sent to the Netherlands, for instance, had residues of pesticides.

This list could go on. But the bottomline is that we can no longer cry wolf about unfair food standards. It is time we put our house in order. For our sakes. We need good research on standard-setting so that we can challenge the international community, when and where the standard is unfair or a non-tarrif barrier, as they say. But beyond this, we cannot hide behind the excuse of poverty anymore. Dirty trade practice is not about poverty. It is about callous and irresponsible trade practices. It is about the lack of regulation and governance. Let us get this straight.

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