Every household in India switched to honey, especially during COVID, because of its immunity booster properties. However, a recent investigation has revealed that major Indian brands are selling honey in the Indian market were adulterated with sugar syrups. So there is a new honey traps in town and this one could threaten everyone’s health. Popular brands like Dabur and Patanjali were allegedly selling adulterate honey which can skip tests used to detect purity.
Research conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) revealed that 77 per cent of the samples sent for testing were adulterated. Research called it a food fraud. Informing the press, CSE’s Director General Sunita Narain said that “we were alerted that beekeepers in North India, their business had collapsed, they were in deep distress. We were initially could not understand what was happening. The sale of honey is booming because of the threat of Covid-19. Household after household we’re using honey to avoid sugar because it is an immunity booster. People who wish to give up sugar are actually consuming more sugar. Sugar ingestion is directly linked to obesity, life-threatening infections. So what was happening?
Earlier, honey used to be spiked with sugar syrup from corn, sugarcane, rice, and beetroot. But these were easily detected in what is known as C3 and C4 tests. Of the 13 samples tested in this investigation, 12 passed these basic tests of purity. But when subjected to a more extensive test like Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) in Germany, 10 of the brand failed. There was a new adulterant in town: Chinese Sugar. Trade portals such as Alibaba allegedly advertised fructose syrup that could allegedly pass C3 and C4 tests without detection. So CSE ordered some from China to see for themselves.
The samples sent by CNN Foods proved to be a goldmine of information, especially when it came to bypassing the Indian Standards.. They were also informed about an Indian producer in Uttarakhand’s Jaspur making a similar “all-pass” syrup. CSE put these adulterants to the FSSAI guidelines test. Centre for Science and Environment spiked six samples of raw and processed honey with this fake honey/sugary syrups from China and India. These tests confirmed to us that honey can be adulterated under The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) testing protocols. Now we know that anybody who wants to adulterate can mix at least 50 per cent of sugar into their honey and this will go undetected under the Indian testing guidelines.
But why would companies want to adulterate their honey? Better price will work in their favour of the adulteration. It’s Rs. 60 a kg versus Rs. 120 which is the basic cost of a honey producer to manufacture the honey. It is easier to buy syrup in bulk than work with beekeepers and their supply chain.
Responding to the CSE report, most big brands denied the allegations. Acharya Balkrishna, Managing Director of Country’s brand, Patanjali called it an attempt to lower the market share of Indian Honey in the international trade. Dabur called it motivated and aimed at maligning their brand. As of 2020, the NMR test was only mandated for honey being exported from India.
Sunita Narain says that “If the government of India was to mandate NMR, we are sure there will be another adulterant in the market. This time it will pass even the NMR test. And that is why we need to understand the impact on our health, and we need to do something much more than just standard-setting. Honey has anti-microbial, it has anti-inflammatory properties. Honey is not sugar, honey is honey. Bees manufacture honey and bring to us nature’s goodness, which is not sugar. It consists of enzymes, amino acids, phenolic acids. It’s basically got good properties, which help to build immunity”.
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