An FAO-backed group is meeting for the first time in India to develop quality standards in the multi-billion-dollar spice and herb trade.
In response to the segment’s growth and the extraordinary diversity of the trade and its products, the global food standards body the Codex Alimentarius Commission last year established the Codex Committee on Spices and Culinary Herbs.
The first meeting of this body began this week in the southern Indian city of Kochi in Kerala.
Herbs and spices have been enjoying rapid growth for several decades on the back of rising demand from the booming economies of Asia and elsewhere, as well as increasing recognition of the health and culinary benefits of herbs and spices.
The new committee is hosted by India and is responsible for promoting worldwide quality standards for many of the biggest selling spices and culinary herbs.
"By developing such standards, Codex wants to contribute to the safety, quality and fairness of the international spice and herb trade," said Ren Wang, assistant director general of UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department.
"Once clear internationally accepted standards are established, consumers can trust the safety and quality of the spices and herbs they buy.
"Importers can trust that the spices and herbs they order and then have delivered will be in accordance with their specifications.
"Perhaps most importantly, the millions of smallholder farmers who grow spices and herbs for a living can see more clearly what they should be growing and to what standard.“
Established by the FAO and World Health Organisation in 1963, Codex develops harmonised international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice to protect the health of the consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade.
The commission is already helping to regulate the safety of many spice and herb products with its general standards for hygiene, contaminants, and pesticide residues. The new committee will be part of a continuing effort to establish quality standards at a global level for many of the world's most important spices, such as black pepper, vanilla and nutmeg, as well as herbs like rosemary, thyme and basil.
While there are standards for some spices and herbs already, there is no global body that provides product-specific, harmonised quality standards for whole and ground spices and culinary herbs, the FAO said.