Honey Fraud: Our response to statements from Dabur, Patanjali

On December 2, 2020, Delhi-based nonprofit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Down To Earth released findings on the nefarious business of adulteration in honey, which is damaging to people’s health. Two of India’s big names in the business — Dabur and Patanjali — have issued statements to the media on CSE’s findings. Here’s our response:

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 03 December 2020
CSE response to Dabur, Patanjali

Regrading Dabur’s claim that its brand is maligned and its honey passed NMR from Germany and met Indian standards  

We stand by our findings. Our findings have revealed that 10 out of 13 brands have failed all tests of purity. Most of these are big brands, including Dabur. This is not only about Dabur. In fact, we have talked about how smaller brands are also adulterated. This is about the consumer’s health. We have shared detailed laboratory results of all samples on our website.

The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) test report available on Dabur’s website and shared with media in support of the company’s statement is a report of the Bruker equipment / machine for NMR profiling. Bruker is a company which developed NMR and promotes it.

We would like to make the consumer aware that this is not a laboratory report, which involves expert interpretation of the information by the equipment. In the case of NMR, it is critical that the final conclusion on a sample’s adulteration is based on interpretation and confirmation by a laboratory expert on NMR. Even the report shared by Dabur mentions that expert interpretation is necessary before deducing any conclusion.

On the other hand, CSE has shared the findings based on laboratory reports from Germany, which involves expert interpretation and confirmation of the data obtained by the machine / equipment. This is a universally accepted practice.

Furthermore, Dabur has shared the report of only one sample. Also, there is no mention of the batch number of the sample tested. So, it remains unclear which batch is being talked about.

On the other hand, we have provided three batch numbers of three samples tested of Dabur: BM3463 (date of manufacture - May 25, 2020); BM3589 (manufactured July 10, 2020) and BM3636 (manufactured August 5, 2020). All three batches were found to be adulterated. In the absence of this information on laboratory test by the batch number, Dabur’s claim of purity is not tenable.

We have also noted that Dabur is constantly changing the language on its claims regarding NMR tests. In earlier advertisements, it has said ‘NMR tested, pure honey’; as of today — after the release of the CSE investigation — Dabur is claiming ‘source NMR tested’. “Is this jugglery another attempt to confuse the consumer?” asks CSE Director-General Sunita Narain.

Dabur’s claim about compliance with Indian laws is no surprise. That is what we have been saying — that the business of adulteration is sophisticated. Indian labs testing for parameters set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) could not detect this evolved adulteration. The fact that samples deliberately adulterated by us by up to 50 per cent of syrups passed all Indian tests is a robust proof of this. So, any claim of meeting all Indian standards actually holds limited value. 

Regarding media reports quoting Patanjali where CSE is accused of promoting German technology.

We would like to make our position on this clear once again. NMR is an advanced test that can detect adulteration with modified sugar syrups, which may otherwise go undetected. It is being used in different parts of the world for the same reason and even the Indian government has mandated it since August 2020 for honey meant to be exported.

So, it could be important to include such advanced testing in government testing system that can help the enforcement agencies to know if the honey sold to consumers is adulterated or not. It can also help the agencies know which companies are selling adulterated honey, which is a crime, and take required punitive action against the defaulters.

In fact, we have emphasised that NMR should not be made mandatory because it would likely help for a limited time — the business of adulteration is so sophisticated that very soon there would be syrups that could bypass the NMR test as well. 

Read: CSE’s report on laboratory results of honey testing

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