Health

It’s not honey: How the ‘magic syrup’ beat Indian testing protocols

Watch how an investigation by CSE exposed the big food fraud  

 
Published: Wednesday 02 December 2020

The biggest brands producing honey have been exposed — so has the food product many consumed for its health benefits.

A study conducted by the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) tested 22 samples of honey from 13 Indian brands. It found that brands such as Dabur, Patanjali, Zandu, Baidyanath and Hitkari were selling honey adulterated with either sugar / rice syrups.

These brands had been using rice and sugar syrups to adulterate honey, which went undetected under testing protocols mandated by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the CSE study found.

While some brands such as Apis, Dadev, Indigenous Honey and Societe Naturalle failed to clear the tests conducted in India, other popular brands that cleared them were found to be circumventing the norms in Germany.

Honey testing in Germany was carried using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR) in one of the most reputed laboratories in the world. The results were astonishing: Only three 13 brands, including Saffola and Markfed Sona, passed both the Indian and NMR tests.

Only five samples out of a batch of 22 were found to be unadulterated.

The CSE study found that sweet syrups made from sugars of different kinds could easily pass the Indian testing protocols, but not the ones that used a more advanced framework. No wonder popular brands such as Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu, Hitkari, and a few smaller brands such as Natures Nectar and Indigenous Honey, could pass the tests for Indian standards but not the ones that used NMR.

The study also showed that these brands were using sugar and rice syrups modified in a manner that could fool all the Indian testing protocols set by FSSAI. What also became apparent was that smaller brands such as Dadev, Hi Honey and Societte Naturelle were not using these modified sugar syrups: They adulterated the honey using simple sugar solutions.

So the big question is: What are these syrups that beat all honey testing protocols in India?

The CSE investigation found that manufacturers in China were openly selling high fructose syrups, which they claimed could pass C3 and C4 tests mandated by India’s FSSAI.

And these syrups are openly sold on websites such as alibaba.com and tradeindia.com. CSE contacted syrup manufacturers and exporters in China to see if these syrups could be brought into India for testing.

Two Chinese companies — Wuhu Deli foods and CNNfoods — were contacted if they could provide us with syrups that could beat the Indian tests. These companies — based in Anhui province of China — got back saying that they could supply us with the “magic syrup that beats all Indian tests”. 

Both CNNfoods and WUHU Deli sent us the samples, but we could get the ones from CNNfoods because of logistical issues. The samples sent by CNNFoods proved to be a goldmine of information, especially when it came to bypassing the Indian standards. But more on this later in the video.

Meanwhile, beekeepers in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana had told CSE researchers that the ‘magic syrup’ was being manufactured in India and was called ‘all pass’ syrup, meaning it could pass all testing protocols of India.

They also directed us to Jaspur in Uttarakhand’s Udham Singh Nagar district;  CSE then contacted a seller there, who agreed to give us a sample of the ‘all pass’ syrup.

The syrup could pass all tests to check for C3 and C4 adulterants in India, but would not stand the scrutiny of NMR tests, the seller claimed. 

One lesson that we learned from our interaction with the Chinese and Indian sellers was that these syrups cost simply a fraction of real honey. While a beekeeper spends Rs 100 to produce one kilogram of honey, these sugar adulterants could cost as littleas Rs 48-Rs 70 per kg.

With the Chinese and Indian syrups in hand it was time to check whether these samples would pass the tests mandated by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. Was this the syrup that the big brands were using to cheat the Indian honey tests?  CSE spiked six samples of raw and processed honey with this fake honey/sugary syrups from China and India.

The mixing combinations were as follows:

  • The first sample contained 75 per cent raw honey mixed with 25 per cent Indian ‘all pass’ syrup
  • The second sample contained 50 per cent raw honey mixed with 50 per cent Indian ‘all pass’ syrup
  • The third sample contained 75 per cent raw honey mixed with 25 per cent Chinese syrup
  • The fourth sample contained 25 per cent raw honey mixed with 75 per cent Chinese syrup
  • The fifth sample contained 75 per cent processed and branded honey mixed with 25 per cent Chinese syrup
  • The sixth sample contained 50 per cent processed and branded honey mixed with 50 per cent Chinese syrup

The processed brand of honey that we used had already passed all testing protocols in India and examination using NMR.

The results astonished us. All the spiked honey samples, except one, passed the Indian testing protocols for C3 and C4 sugars. The one that failed was the sample that contained 25 per cent raw honey spiked with 75 per cent Chinese syrup.

We now know that companies can mix at least 50 per cent sugar in their honey — and it would go undetected under the Indian testing guidelines. Could this be the reason why nine out of the 13 brands passed the Indian testing protocols but failed during the NMR tests. Only two Indian brands passed NMR standard for testing adulterants.

At least 77 per cent of the Indian honey samples that we tested were adulterated.

The link for the CSE study is in the description box below the video. You can also click the card on the top right corner of your screen to watch the first part of the video.

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