Nepal has banned the import, consumption and sale of powdered spice products sold by Indian firms Everest and MDH, reported ANI on Thursday.

The decision comes as the country’s Department of Food Technology and Quality Control moves to test the levels of ethylene oxide in the spice products imported from India.

Mohan Krishna Maharjan, the spokesperson for the department, said that the ban was imposed a week earlier after reports emerged of traces of harmful chemical in the spice mixtures. “We have also banned the sale of it in the market,” he added.

Maharjan said that the ban would will be enforced until the final test reports were available and pointed out that Hong Kong and Singapore have banned the import of Everest and MDH spice products over contamination concerns.

On Wednesday, the United Kingdom imposed additional quality control measures on all spice products imported from India after reports of alleged contamination of powdered spice products sold by Everest and MDH.

This came after Hong Kong and Singapore raised an alarm about the presence of ethylene oxide in powdered spices sold by Everest and MDH.

Hong Kong banned the sale of and recalled four spice products imported from India – MDH Madras Curry Powder, MDH Sambhar Masala, MDH Curry Powder and Everest Fish Curry Masala. It noted that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified ethylene oxide as a Group 1 carcinogen.

A Group 1 carcinogen is a compound or physical factor that has been proven, with sufficient evidence, to cause cancer in humans.

Everest’s fish curry spice mixture has also been recalled by the Singapore Food Agency on the grounds that it contains higher-than-permissible levels of ethylene oxide. “Ethylene oxide…is not authorised for use in food,” the Singaporean agency’s statement read.

On Wednesday, New Zealand's food safety regulator said that it is investigating possible contamination in spice products of MDH and Everest, reported Reuters. The United States and Australia have also launched similar investigations into imported Indian spice products.

FSSAI permits higher pesticide residue in spices, herbs

These developments came after the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India last month cleared a ten-fold increase in the maximum permissible amount of pesticide residue in edible spice and herb products. The maximum limit will apply to all those products for which it has not been already defined as per Indian or international norms.

The Union government described media reports about the safety standards as false and malicious, The Indian Express reported. “It is clarified that India has one of the most stringent standards of Maximum Residue Limits in the world,” the government asserted.

In an order on April 8, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India increased the default maximum residue limit for pesticides in spices and herbs to 0.1 milligrams per kilogram, as against the earlier figure of 0.01 milligrams per kilogram. The default residue limit for other food items remains unchanged at 0.01 milligrams per kilogram.

The food regulator said that in the case of pesticides that are registered with the agriculture ministry but lack maximum residue limits as per Indian norms for spices, the standards of the Codex Alimentarius Commission would be used. The Codex Alimentarius Commission is a global food safety standards body set up by the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization.