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Bee-keepers feel the sting of falling honey prices. Who’s to blame?

While it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for the fall in prices, the recent finding by the CSE that honey is mixed with sugar syrup and sold as pure honey, does not bode well for the bee-keeping industry.

December 09, 2020 / 06:05 PM IST

It's not the best of times for those in the bee-keeping business. And the revelation by a recent study that honey sold by most well-known brands in India was adulterated is not likely to help matters either.

Ask Ram Kamble, a bee-keeper from the outskirts of Dahanu in Maharashtra, whose family has been in the business for over five decades. The father of two daughters complains that the takings from honey are not enough to meet his household expenses and he’s actually contemplating switching over to something else.

“The demand for honey has come down significantly. In the last 4-5 years, the quantity of honey sold has also come down. Earlier, companies used to take close to 50-100 kg honey from one beekeeper, now they only order 20-30kg,” he says.

But, he adds, it’s not the drop in demand alone that hurts. The price per kg has been falling from 2014-15 onwards. From 150-200/kg, the price is now sharply down to almost 100-110 per kg.

Moneycontrol spoke to four more bee-keepers who also complained about the fall in income.  They alleged that it is adulteration by companies which is causing a fall in prices.

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“Large quantity of sugar syrup adulteration in honey (was) started by large companies, so procurement of honey from bee-keepers was done at reduced rates,” said one of the beekeepers who did not wish to be named.

Why has demand dropped?

Industry experts and scientists who train bee-keepers for extracting honey said the trend of falling prices has been on for some years now.

While it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for the fall in prices, the recent finding by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) that honey, which is a natural product from bees, is mixed with sugar syrup acquired from rice, corn, beetroot, and sugarcane and sold as pure honey, does not bode well for the bee-keeping industry.

The CSE food researchers took 13 bigger and smaller brands of processed and raw honey that are sold in India to check their purity.

The study found that 77 percent of honey samples were adulterated with sugar syrup. Only 3 out of the 13 brands  -- Marico’s Saffola, Markfed Sohna and Nature's Nectar (one out of two samples) -- passed all the tests.

Brands that failed the purity test for honey include well-known ones like Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu, Hitkari, and Apis Himalaya.

Dabur has clearly mentioned in its common statement to the media that they directly buy honey from bee-keepers.

Dabur and Patanjali have refuted the findings of the CSE study. The companies said they have fully adhered to the norms on testing honey set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

Emami, which sells honey under the brand Zandu said that its Zandu Pure Honey conforms and adheres to all the protocols and quality norms/standards laid down by the Government of India and its authorised entities such as FSSAI.

Marico’s Saffola Honey passed the test. The company spokesperson told Moneycontrol, "Every batch of Saffola Honey is tested using NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) technology, which is one of the most advanced tests in the world, in the best in class laboratories to ensure that it is 100 percent pure, free from added sugars and free from any form of adulteration.”

Adulteration by traders or companies?

Dr Dhananjay Wakhle, a retired scientist from the Central Bee Research and Training Institute (CBRTI) and Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) from Pune said that traders while processing the honey have been adulterating the syrup to increase the quantity and companies are well aware of this adulteration.

In fact, he said, some companies are just preferring to pack sugar syrups directly as they are easy to pass the FSSAI test.

“Companies are well aware of traders adulterating honey. Perhaps a lot of companies prefer to add sugar syrups directly and pack and (are) avoiding the process of honey processing and packaging. This is mainly because syrups may pass standard quality (FSSAI) parameters easily, as assured by the syrup suppliers,” said Wakhle.

Beekeepers or experts in the honey industry maintain that bee-keepers will never do any adulteration.

Most experts also agreed that some big traders have been adulterating sugar syrups made by Chinese companies - namely golden syrup, invert sugar syrup and rice syrup being exported to India as fructose – which is being added to the honey in a way that easily bypasses food standards.

According to media reports, companies started importing fructose syrup from China, and there was a spike in the imported quantity to more than 4,300 MT in 2017-18.

“Pure honey goes from bee-keepers to traders. If at all, it could have been done from the traders/distributors/aggregators end,” said Uttam Sahane, Plant Protection Scientists, Krishi Vigyan Kendra-Palghar, who also trains bee-keepers.

Echoing Sahane’s view one of the partners of Pahadi Local Honey, a brand known for their pure honey from the Himalayas, added, “Adulteration has been going on for years. It is the duty of the company to check the purity of the product after buying it from traders rather than playing blame games. Even FSSAI should tighten quality control norms.”

Himadri Buch
first published: Dec 8, 2020 10:30 pm
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