They failed the NMR test conducted by a German laboratory to check for purity while Saffola Honey and two others passed it said the CSE.
Major honey brands such as Dabur, Patanjali, and Emami (Zandu Pure Honey) have failed a purity test conducted by a German laboratory said the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi-based public interest research and advocacy organisation on 2 December 2020. Out of the 13 honey brands that were tested, Marico’s Saffola honey was the only big brand to pass all the tests.
“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 COVID-19,” said Sunita Narain, director general, CSE.
As part of its investigation, the CSE selected 13 top and smaller brands of processed and raw honey being sold in India. It first tested the samples of these brands at the Centre for Analysis and Learning in Livestock and Food (CALF) at National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in Gujarat – all brands passed the purity test except Apis Himalaya. CSE also said a few smaller brands failed the tests to detect C4 sugar – “call it basic adulteration using cane sugar.”
However, when the same brands’ honey samples were tested using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) by a specialised laboratory in Germany, only three brands: Saffola, Markfed Sohna and Nature’s Nectar (one out of its two samples) passed the test.
The NMR test is administered across the world to test honey for its purity. While the test is not a norm in India, it is mandatory for honey meant for export.
“What we found was shocking. 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,” said Amit Khurana, programme director of CSE’s Food Safety and Toxins team.
The CSE said FSSAI had directed importers and state food commissioners in 2019 that golden syrup, invert sugar syrup and rice syrup imported into the country was being used for adulteration of honey.
And during its investigation, the CSE tracked down Chinese trade portals like Alibaba which were advertising fructose syrup that can bypass tests.
Khurana remarked, “It remains unclear how much does the food regulator really know about this murky business.”
The major findings of the CSE’s investigation were:
77 per cent of the samples were found to be adulterated with the addition of sugar syrup.
Out of the 22 samples tested, only five 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, Markfed Sohna and Nature’s Nectar (one out of two samples) -- passed all the tests.
In what seemed a case of pure bad luck, Dabur Honey had taken out front-page ads in The Times of India today (3 December 2020) and touted its purity while the newspaper wrote about the brand failing the NMR test. (Dabur Honey in the ad had spoken of being free from sugar and other adulterants)
The honey major has tweeted about it being NMR profiled and being 22 FSSAI tests complaint.
A new twist to India’s honey wars
It was only this year that Indian honey brands Dabur and Saffola were taking shots at each other.
In August, Saffola Honey released its first ad where it touted its purity and mentioned its honey was tested using NMR and was “free from any form of adulteration and with no added sugar.” It was also the first ad we (afaqs!) saw where a scientist in a lab coat examines honey's purity under a microscope.
And then in October, Dabur Honey released an ad where we see a guy dissuade a lady from buying what appears to be a bottle of Dabur Honey but is, in fact, a lookalike. Dabur too spoke about the NMR test in the ad.
It had all started in July where Dabur had alleged Saffola had imitated its bottle, design, and packaging of Dabur Honey and taken its rival to court.
It will be interesting to watch how India's honey brands respond to the CSE investigation and communicate to its conusmers.