- 10 out of 13 honey brands --Dabur, Zandu, Baidyanath, Patanjali, Apis Himalaya, and more -- flunk stringent NMR tests
- Only three brands-Saffola, Markfed Sohna and Nature's Nectar -- passed the test
- 17 of the 22 samples tested by CSE in German lab failed
- 77% of the samples found to be adulterated with sugar syrup
- Indian regulations do not mandate NMR tests for domestic market but they are compulsory for exports
In a major expose on rampant adulteration of packaged honey sold in the Indian market, 10 of the 13 brands flunked the stringent Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) test considered as the global gold standard for honey as part of an investigation conducted by a Delhi-based NGO Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
The brands whose samples flunked the test include household names like Dabur, yoga guru Ramdev Baba's Patanjali, Zandu, Baidyanath, Apis Himalaya and Hitkari. Three brands -Saffola, Markfed Sohna and Nature's Nectar passed the test.
Meanwhile, Dabur has countered the findings of the test saying its honey has passed NMR tests as well. A detailed response is awaited. Emami Spokesperson too said that its Zandu Pure Honey conforms and adheres to all the protocols and quality norms/standards laid down by the Government of India and its authorised entities such as FSSAI. It did not make any comment on the NMR test, which is the global standard. Apis spokesperson replied that they will not comment immediately but will plan a press conference, date of which is yet to be announced.
In all, 22 samples were tested of which only five passed. CSE said 77 per cent of the samples were found to be adulterated with addition of sugar syrup. It added that most of it is being imported from China. Sugar syrup costs just Rs 60 per kg, about half the price of raw honey at Rs 120 per kg which makes adulteration lucrative.
"It is a food fraud more nefarious and sophisticated than what we found in our 2003 and 2006 investigations into soft drinks; more damaging to our health than perhaps anything that we have found till now - keeping in mind the fact that we are still fighting against a killer COVID-19 pandemic with our backs to the wall. This overuse of sugar in our diet will make it worse," said Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) director general Sunita Narain.
"This is immensely worrying, as it will further compromise health in the troubled times of COVID-19. We know that households today are consuming more honey because of its intrinsic goodness - antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Our research has found that most of the honey sold in the market is adulterated with sugar syrup. Therefore, instead of honey, people are eating more sugar, which will add to the risk of COVID-19. Sugar ingestion is directly linked to obesity, and obese people are more vulnerable to life-threatening infections," she added.
CSE got a tip-off on something sinister happening in the honey industry from tales of woes from beekeepers in the country. At a time when consumption of honey, which is an immunity booster that helps in fighting Covid19, is rising, beekeepers are reporting low price yields in the market. The investigation led to the revelation that cheaper sugar syrup is being imported from China and mixed up to 50 per cent in raw honey. The adulterated honey passes the required health and safety protocols and tests certified by FSSAI, which CSE claims are lax in comparison to global standards.
"What we found was shocking," says Amit Khurana, programme director of CSE's Food Safety and Toxins team. "It shows how the business of adulteration has evolved so that it can pass the stipulated tests in India. Our concern is not just that the honey we eat is adulterated, but that this adulteration is difficult to catch. In fact, we have found that the sugar syrups are designed so that they can go undetected."
In August, the Indian government had made NMR tests mandatory for export of honey indicating it was aware of contamination but is yet to make the tests mandatory for the domestic market.
"It remains unclear how much the food regulator really knows about this murky business," Khurana said. CSE says the government should completely ban import of syrups from China, strengthen enforcement in India, get samples tested through advance technologies and hold companies responsible for errant practices.
"It is time we outwitted the business of adulteration. we as consumers must also become more aware of the honey we eat for its goodness. For instance, we often assume that if honey crystallises then it is not honey. This is not correct. We must start learning the taste, smell and colour of the honey that is natural," says Narain. "We are consuming honey - more of it to fight the pandemic. But honey adulterated with sugar will not make us well. It will, in fact, make us even more vulnerable."
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