Leading honey brands fail adulteration test by foreign lab, says CSE

Topics Dabur Honey | Dabur | Marico

The investigation began after tip-offs received from Indian beekeepers pointed to widespread contamination of honey by domestic manufacturers
Some of the country's top honey brands, including Dabur, Patanjali, and Emami, have failed an adulteration test carried out by a foreign laboratory, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said on Wednesday, bringing into focus the issue of contamination of honey, which is widely used as an immunity booster in India. 

Among big brands, only Marico's Saffola Honey cleared all the tests, pointing to the level of adulteration among popular honey labels, the CSE said. Smaller brands, on the other hand, failed laboratory tests for both Indian and foreign standards, the organisation based in New Delhi said.  

According to the CSE, honey, which is a natural product acquired from bees, is mixed with sugar syrup acquired from rice, corn, beetroot, and sugarcane and passed off as pure -- a clear health hazard.

The investigation began after tip-offs received from Indian beekeepers pointed to widespread contamination of honey by domestic manufacturers, who were allegedly sourcing sugar syrup from China. After the ban on Chinese imports recently, Indian manufacturers now locally source sugar syrup from plants located in states such as Uttarakhand.

Sunita Narain, director general, CSE, said it was the sheer economics of the operation that was pushing companies to adulterate. Sugar syrup is available for half the price of raw honey. An indicator of this is the falling price of raw honey, which has crashed to ~60-70 per kg now from ~150 per kg six years ago. Beekeepers unable to match this price have been getting out of the business over the last few years.

"There is no norm that permits the mixing of honey with sugar syrup. But companies have been doing so and making huge profits in the process," Narain said. “We need the beekeepers because without them, there will be a decline in bees. And without bees, we will lose productivity of food, as they are crucial pollinators,” she said.

The study acquires significance since the level of adulteration is such that tests carried out by an Indian laboratory were unable to detect the contamination in top brands. It was the use of an advanced laboratory test called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) in Germany that detected the adulteration, Narain said.

She also said norms laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on adulteration of honey had been inconsistent over the years. Chinese imports, in particular, must be stopped, she said, through deviant trade routes such as Hong Kong to prevent the misuse of syrups.

Brands named in the study were quick to dispute the CSE's claims. A Dabur India spokesperson said, "The report seems motivated and aimed at maligning our brand. Dabur does not import honey or syrup from China. Our honey is sourced entirely from Indian beekeepers. Dabur also complies with the 22 parameters mandated by the FSSAI. We are also the only company in the country to have NMR testing equipment in our own laboratory to check for adulteration."

Patanjali Ayurved's MD Acharya Balkrishna said that the CSE report seemed to be a marketing ploy to promote German technology. "We make 100 per cent natural honey which has been tested on standards laid down by the FSSAI. Ayurveda has been recommending natural honey for ages to boost immunity. The study seems to be an attempt to mark down Indian honey and promote German technology," he said.

A spokesperson for Emami said the company was a responsible organisation, complying with all standards. "Zandu Pure Honey conforms and adheres to all the protocols and quality norms laid down by the Government of India and its authorised entities such as the FSSAI," the spokesperson said.

A mail sent to Marico elicited no response till the time of going to press.

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