The Indian government’s Agmark standards are used to grade agricultural produce. Between market and consumer, Agmark’s network of laboratories operate as a third-party guarantee for product and packaging. Voluntary Agmark grading on the product label is recognized by consumers at the point of purchase, which feeds back to a higher consciousness of quality among producers and traders. Within Agmark’s laboratory system, 15 “specific commodity” sites test spices. Agmark grades for spices are compulsory, and grades are based on purity, cleanliness, percent moisture, size, color, density and flavor (aroma and pungency).
In 1935, the British Parliament passed the Government of India Act, setting the stage for Indian independence. In February 1937, Mahatma Ghandi’s party of Hindu nationalists won legislature majorities during the first elections held under that act. The Agricultural Produce Grading and Marking Act 1937 was among laws passed that year. It provided for voluntary grading of produce for domestic consumption (Agmark grades), but provided that grading could become compulsory. Since 1963, the Indian Directorate of Marketing Inspection has expanded voluntary inspection to more than 160 products.
India launched compulsory inspection of export spices under the Preshipment Inspection and Quality Control Act of 1962. The Export Inspection Agency uses the established Agmark grades for export certification. The agency further administers India’s Prevention of Food Adulteration Act of 2005 (PFA) and tests for any incidental or deliberate contamination of product. For example, the spice turmeric is tested to detect starches of other plants added as fillers. More importantly, turmeric testing prevents illegal coloring additives from reaching consumers, including lead chromate, a poisonous yellow commercial paint pigment.
India has hundreds of black pepper export firms. Black pepper accounts for 8 percent of India’s spice exports. Agmark assigns 15 grades for the more than 70 cultivars of black pepper. The range of grades and tastes accommodates the cuisines of nations that import Indian pepper. One grading criteria is pungency, unrelated to berry color or size. For high grades, light-colored berries are limited to 3 percent. Moisture content is limited to 12 percent to avoid any risk of mold. On January 3, 2003, the "Times of India" reported that the most common adulterant Agmark laboratories discovered in domestic black pepper was dried papaya seeds.
Indian Consumer Confidence
Domestic Agmark inspection is compulsory only for ghee, oils and spices. On October 22, 2003, the "Times of India" reported that economic liberalization policies of the 1990s increased market competition, so that consumers were confident that no food producer would risk a quality scandal. Agmark became less significant to consumers and fewer food processing companies felt Agmark voluntary certification was necessary. The "Times of India" reported that Agmark’s fees deterred some manufacturers from getting voluntary certification, but Agmark countered that the fee assured that only serious manufacturers would ask to be graded.
World Bank Criticisms
In June, 2009, V. J. Kurien, chairman of the Indian Ministry of Commerce & Industry’s Spices Board announced that spice exports were 470,520 tons, valued at $11.68 billion for the prior 12 month period. The United States accounts for 20 percent of India’s spice export trade. In 2005, The World Bank published criticisms of India’s grading process for spices. After noting that India’s domestic standards were not compatible with their international standards, the World Bank reported that pesticides and microbial contaminants were not regulated by PFA or Agmark, domestic enforcement capacity was weak and penalties for violations were small.