Major Indian brands like Dabur, Patanjali and Zandu are selling honey adulterated with sugar syrup China, which can skip basic tests used to detect the authenticity of honey, researchers from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) have revealed.
The researchers selected 13 brands of processed and raw honey being sold in India as part of their research. The research found that nearly all brands of honey which are sold in the Indian market are adulterated with sugar syrup.
Dismissing all allegations, Dabur, Patanjali, Zandu and many other brands said that their honey products were not adulterated and claimed that they meet all regulatory requirements as per the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
"The organisation launched an investigation when beekeepers in North India reported less profits despite a surge in honey sales during the pandemic," CSE director general Sunita Narain said.
"It is a food fraud more nefarious and more sophisticated than what we found in our 2003 and 2006 investigations into soft drinks; more damaging to our health than perhaps anything that we have found till now — keeping in mind the fact that we are still fighting against a killer COVID-19 pandemic with our backs to the wall," Narain said.
"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," Narain said.
"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. Sugar ingestion is directly linked to obesity, and obese people are more vulnerable to life-threatening infections," Narain added.
According to the research, the modified 'Chinese sugar' can only be detected by a test called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), which has been made compulsory very recently in India.
Out of the 13 brands that were tested, almost all, except Apis Himalaya, passed the basic purity tests.
However, when the same brands were tested using NMR, most of them failed. Only three out of 13 passed the NMR test. Saffola, MarkfedSohna and Nature's Nectar passed all tests.
"It shows how the business of adulteration has evolved so that it can pass the stipulated tests in India," Amit Khurana, programme director of CSE's Food Safety and Toxins team said.
"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," he said.
Acharya Balkrishna, managing director of Patanjali Ayurved Ltd, referred to the research results as "an attempt to lower the market share of Indian honey in international trade".
In a statement emailed to ThePrint, he said: "It seems to be a plot to defame Indian natural honey industry and manufacturers in a bid to promote processed honey. It further seems to be an international marketing designed to promote German technology and machines which cost crores of rupees."
The CSE team also said that a factory to manufacture this 'Chinese syrup' was set up in Jaspur, Uttarakhand and the CSE researchers used code word "all pass" (for the syrup) to procure a sample from Jaspur.
"What was shocking to find is that adulterated samples with 25 per cent and 50 per cent sugar syrup passed the test of purity. In this way, we confirmed that sugar syrups exist that can bypass the 2020 FSSAI standard for honey," Khurana, CSE's programme director of Food Safety and Toxins said.