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Exposing Honey Fraud! Severe Adulteration in Popular Indian Brands of Honey, Says CSE Lab Report

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Indian Honey

A new Laboratory analysis by Centre for Science and Environment on commonly available popular Indian Honey Brands has set the warning bells toiling. The study finds that the Popular 13 Honey Brands like Dabur, Patanjali contain dangerously high levels of adulteration which are higher that the thresholds set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The Current Investigations reveal nefarious adulteration business of honey designed to bypass purity tests; massive implications for our health during COVID-19 times.77 per-cent of samples were found adulterated with sugar syrup. CSE had partnered with labs in Germany to reveal the rampant adulteration. Only three out of 13 brands pass the internationally accepted Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR) test. These sugar syrups seemed to have been designed by the Chinese companies.

This overuse of sugar in our diet will make it worse,” said Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) director general Sunita Narain today, while releasing a new CSE investigation into honey adulteration. The study has found that almost all brands of honey being sold in Indian markets are adulterated with sugar syrup. 

“This is immensely worrying, as it will further compromise health in the troubled times of COVID-19.Honey is been consumed more because of its goodness in these times of pandemic but ingesting sugar syrup will do more harm than good. Sugar ingestion is directly linked to obesity, and obese people are more vulnerable to life-threatening infections,” added Narain. 

Honeybee

The  investigations were initially done at the Centre for Analysis and Learning in Livestock and Food (CALF) at National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in Gujarat. Almost all the top brands (except Apis Himalaya) passed the tests of purity, while a few smaller brands failed the tests to detect C4 sugar – call it basic adulteration using cane sugar. 

The  same brands were again  tested using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) – laboratory tests currently being used globally to check for such modified sugar syrups – almost all big and small brands failed. Out of the 13 brands tests, only three passed the NMR test, which was done by a specialised laboratory in Germany. 

The findings were:

  • 77 per cent of the samples were found to be adulterated with addition of sugar syrup.

  • Out of 22 samples tested, only five passed all the tests.

  • Honey samples from leading brands such as Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu, Hitkari and Apis Himalaya, all failed the NMR test.

  • Only 3 out of the 13 brands – Saffola, Markfed Sohna and Nature’s Nectar (one out of two samples) -- passed all the tests. 

As of August 1, 2020, NMR tests have been made mandatory in India for honey that is meant for export, suggesting that the Indian government is aware of this adulteration business and the need for more advanced tests. 

It remains unclear how much does FSSAI  know about this murky business of importing sugar syrups,golden syrups and rice syrups .They  are either not imported in these names or are not indicted for adulteration. Instead, Chinese companies are mostly exporting this syrup as fructose to India.

CSE has also tracked down Chinese trade portals like Alibaba which were advertising fructose syrup that can bypass tests. It also found that the same Chinese companies that advertised this fructose syrup that can beat C3 and C4 tests also exported to India. CSE then conducted an undercover operation to find out more. It sent emails to Chinese companies soliciting syrups that could pass tests in India. It received replies that syrups were available and could be sent to India. 

Chinese companies informed CSE that even if 50-80 per cent of the honey is adulterated with syrup it would pass all stipulated tests. A sample of the syrup that can bypass tests was then sent by the Chinese company as “paint pigment” to get through customs. 

CSE also tracked down factory that manufactures syrup to adulterate honey to Jaspur in Uttarakhand. Using the code word for the syrup “all pass”, CSE researchers made contact and procured a sample. 

To understand if the sugar syrups would pass the laboratory tests undetected, CSE then adulterated samples of pure honey. “What was shocking to find is that adulterated samples with 25 per cent and 50 per cent sugar syrup passed the test of purity. In this way, we confirmed that sugar syrups exist that can bypass the 2020 FSSAI standard for honey,” says Khurana. 

Keeping into consideration all these facts as consumers we need to be aware of the honey we buy. We often think if honey crystallizes, then it is sugar, but it’s the opposite.

CSE requests for

  • Stop the import of syrups and honey from China

  • Strengthen enforcement in India through public testing so that companies are held responsible. Government should get samples tested using advanced technologies and make this information public so that consumers are aware and our health is not compromised. It will also hold companies responsible.

  • Ensure that every honey company is required to trace back the origins of the honey – from the beekeeper to the hive. 

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