Food

Honey Fraud: A wrap of CSE study on adulteration

The biggest names in the Indian honey business are selling adulterated honey. Our health — as well as our beekeepers — are in trouble 

 
Published: Friday 04 December 2020

What is the truth behind India’s honey? How pure is the honey made by your favourite brands? Are you eating the nature’s wonder food or are the companies selling you cheap and unhealthy sugar?

The latest investigation by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) gave us several astounding answers.

CSE had earlier exposed pesticides in colas and packaged drinking water, antibiotics in honey, genetically modified organisms in packaged food as well as excess salts and trans fat in junk foods. The latest investigation exposed top Indian brands of selling honey adulterated with sugar syrup.

The think tank tested 22 samples from 13 Indian brands first in Indian laboratory and then in Germany. Tests found that more than 77 per cent were not honey, but adulterated with sugar syrup.

Only five of the 22 samples were found to be unadulterated. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) mandated six sets of tests to detect adulteration. These tests are done to detect two types of sugar adulterants — C3 and C4.

C3 sugars are found in starchy plants such as rice and beetroot, whereas C4 sugars are derived from plant like sugarcane and corn. These sugars and their traces must not exceed a certain threshold for honey to be called pure.

We sent a sample from each of the 13 brands to the Centre for Analysis and Learning in Livestock and Food (CALF) to check for C3 and C4 sugar adulteration. Market leaders such as Dabur, Patanjali, Zandu, Saffola, Baidyanath, Apis, Markfed Sohna and Hitkari were part of the study along with smaller brands such as Nature’s Nectar, Dadev, Hi Honey, Indigenous Honey, and Societe Naturelle honey.

Interestingly the CALF laboratory in India did not find adulteration of C3 and C4 sugar in big brands. Most of the smaller brands, however, failed the laboratory tests for Indian standards. These smaller brands were adulterated with cane or C4 sugars in most cases.

The picture, however, changed when all the samples were sent to a top laboratory in Germany for advanced testing. The results informed us that the Indian standards for honey purity cannot ‘catch’ adulteration.

Meanwhile, Chinese manufacturers were openly advertising in online marketplaces such as Alibaba.com and TradeIndia.com about rice and sugar syrups that could bypass the tests for C3 and C4 sugars. There were also rumours that this Chinese technology of masking syrups had reached India and factories in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand were making them.

Were the big brands adulterating this new age magic syrup in their honey? To get around this one has to rely on a more advanced testing technology called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR).

NMR is the best available technology to detect adulteration, especially in honey. It is often called the gold standard for honey testing. All exported honey from India must undergo this test. But this test is not mandatory for the honey sold in India. These same brands were again tested using the NMR technique. An additional test called Trace Marker for Rice Syrup (TMR) was also conducted on the samples in a German laboratory.

The results were not only surprising, but looked different as well.

Many samples that had passed the Indian laboratory tests failed the TMR test. Almost all samples sent to the German laboratory failed the NMR tests.

The analysis done by the German laboratory indicates adulteration or addition of sugar syrups in the failed samples. At least 77 percent of the Indian brands including Dabur, Patanjali, Zandu, Baidyanath, Hitkari and one sample of Nature’s Nectar failed the NMR test.

Some of them such as Dabur, Patanjali, Hitkary even failed the TMR, indicating they had unauthorised addition of rice syrup — a C3 sugar syrup. But these went undetected in the Indian tests on C3 sugars.

There, you have it: The biggest names in the Indian honey business are selling adulterated honey. Of all the samples, only three brands Saffola, Markfed Sohna and Nature’s Nectar (one sample of two) passed all tests.

From a batch of 22, only five passed the tests. This is the mother of all food frauds. This is about your health. You need to know and take charge. To know more about adulteration in honey, visit www.downtoearth.org.in.

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