It is true that everybody loves honey. Honey naturally acts as a home remedy for absolutely everything. But did you know that the honey you are consuming might be dangerous? Did you know that it might be adulterated? What is this case of honeygate that has come to the surface? Warnings have come in and scientists suggest to beware of the branded honey.
CSE food research
CSE food researchers selected 13 top and smaller brands of processed and raw honey being sold in India. They tested samples of these brands 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 – basic adulteration using cane sugar.
To a huge shock, when they tested the same brands using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), almost all big and small brands failed. Out of the 13 brands tests, only three passed the NMR test. This took place in a specialised laboratory in Germany.
“What we found was shocking,” says 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.”
Shocking findings in the research
- 77 per cent of the samples found to be adulterated with addition of sugar syrup.
- Out of 22 samples tested, only 5 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, MarkfedSohna 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. This clearly suggests that the Indian government is aware of this adulteration business and the need for more advanced tests.
“It is a food fraud more nefarious and more sophisticated than what we found in our 2003 and 2006 investigations into soft drinks. It is more damaging to our health than perhaps anything that we have found till now.This overuse of sugar in our diet will make it worse,” said Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) director general Sunita Narain. She released 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. 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 pandemic. Sugar ingestion is directly linked to obesity, and obese people are more vulnerable to life-threatening infections,” added Narain.
Connection with China
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), in the past year, has directed importers and state food commissioners that golden syrup, invert sugar syrup and rice syrup imported into the country was being used for adulteration of honey. “It remains unclear how much does the food regulator really know about this murky business,” says Khurana.
He adds, “The three imported sugar syrups named by FSSAI in its directive – golden syrup, invert sugar syrup and rice syrup. Instead of naming these, 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.”
CSE tracked down Chinese trade portals like Alibaba which were advertising fructose syrup that can bypass tests. It also found that the same Chinese companies who were advertising this fructose syrup 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.
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.
The need of the hour
Says Narain: “It is time we outwitted the business of adulteration. We have the following ‘asks’ from the government, industry and consumers”:
- 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.
“But 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.