Even as Indians turn to honey consumption to boost their immunity amidst the pandemic, investigations by the CSE reveal that it might not be a good idea
A recent investigative study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment found (CSE) found that 77% of samples of honey were adulterated with sugar syrup. Popular brands like Dabur, Patanjali and Zandu failed the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR) test. Only three brands out of 13 — Saffola, Markfed Sohna and Nature’s Nectar (one sample) passed all tests including the NMR test.
NMR screening is a globally accepted laboratory test to check adulteration and manipulation such as modified sugar syrups in honey. Last year the Indian government mandated NMR testing for honey exported from India, as it is considered an advanced test. Passing it means assured quality, thereby better value in the international market. But for consumption in India, the Government has not mandated the NMR test.
CSE selected 13 top and small brands of processed and raw honey in India for testing. First, they got the samples tested at the Centre for Analysis and Learning in Livestock and Food (CALF) at National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in Gujarat. Except Apis Himalaya, all big brands passed, while a few smaller brands like Dadev, Hi Honey, and Societe Naturelle, failed the C4 sugar syrup tests – which is a “basic”. But the same brands who passed these tests when tested in a German laboratory failed the NMR test. Though CSE has not revealed the name of the laboratory, it said that the laboratory is reputed and has an office in India.
Amit Khurana, the programme director at CSE found it “shocking”. He said, “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.”
CSE investigations reveal that Indian honey is being adulterated using imported Chinese syrups. Earlier, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had informed Indian authorities that golden syrup, invert sugar syrup and rice syrup are being imported into the country for adulteration of honey.
Investigation by the CSE cast doubt on how much Indian authorities know about this murky business, they claim that, perhaps, these syrups are being imported in India as fructose syrup. “The three imported sugar syrups named by FSSAI in its directive – golden syrup, invert sugar syrup and rice syrup — 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. So, why did FSSAI put out what is clearly an erroneous order? We are not certain.” Khurana says.
CSE tracked Chinese companies and found that they advertised this as fructose syrup that can beat C3 and C4 tests and are being exported to India. Some of the Chinese companies confided in CSE that even after 50-80% adulteration with syrup, honey would pass all stipulated tests.
It is important to note that honey is considered as an immunity booster for its antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. Until March 2020 the sale of honey rose up to 35% due to Covid and is expected to rise even further– consuming adulterated honey, then, can do more harm than good.
Sunita Narain, director at CSE at a virtual press conference held this week said, “This is substantial research that tells that honey we are having is nothing but sugar. It will work against us during the pandemic.”
(Cover: ADULTERATED: A recent investigation by the CSE found 77% of samples of honey to have been mixed with different syrups manufactured in China PHOTO: Getty Images)