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

Some of the country’s top honey brands including names such as Dabur, Patanjali and Emami’s Zandu Honey 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.

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

Basically 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 being pure, CSE said, 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 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.
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Sunita Narain, director general, CSE, said that 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 Rs 60-70 per kg now from Rs 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 because 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 that norms laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on adulteration of honey had been inconsistent over the years, pointing to gaps that needed to be plugged and enforcement improved by the regulator. Chinese imports, in particular, must be stopped, she said, through deviant trade routes such as Hong Kong to prevent misuse of syrups.

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Brands named in the study were quick to dispute 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 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 that 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.