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Honey adulteration | FSSAI needs to strengthen testing standards, says CSE's Amit Khurana

In an interaction with Moneycontrol, Programme Director of the CSE’s Food Safety and Toxins Amit Khurana said Indian standards are not enough to detect adulteration in honey.

December 10, 2020 / 07:35 PM IST
A CSE investigation showed recently that most of the major brands are selling adulterated honey in India. (Pixabay)

A CSE investigation showed recently that most of the major brands are selling adulterated honey in India. (Pixabay)

The Centre for Science and Environment's (CSE's) findings of adulteration in honey by major brands have sparked a silent tussle between the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the NGO.

In an interaction with Moneycontrol, Amit Khurana, Programme Director of the CSE’s Food Safety and Toxins, said Indian standards are not enough to detect adulteration.

“Indian testing standards are not good enough that is why most of the brands are there in India who have failed in advanced testing done in Germany.”

He said strengthening these standards is required. “Despite set standards, we do not know whether the FSSAI has been testing. The results are not in the public domain," Khurana added.

The recent findings by the NGO that honey, which is a natural product from bees, is mixed with sugar syrup made from rice, corn, beetroot, and sugarcane and sold as pure honey, do 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 names like Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu, Hitkari, and Apis Himalaya.

“Out of the 22 samples checked, 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 (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) test," the study said.

Samples of these brands were first tested by the CSE at the Centre for Analysis and Learning in Livestock and Food (CALF) at the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in Gujarat. All the top brands passed the tests of purity, while a few brands failed the tests to detect C4 sugar.

But when the same samples were tested using NMR in a specialised laboratory in Germany, almost all big and small Indian honey brands were found to be selling adulterated honey.

Most companies refuted the adulteration claims.

Dabur, in its statement to media, said: “Dabur is complying with the 22 parameters mandated by the FSSAI. In addition, Dabur Honey is also tested for the presence of antibiotics, as mandated by the FSSAI. Further, Dabur is the only company in India to have an NMR testing equipment in our own laboratory, and the same is used to regularly test our Honey being sold in the Indian market.”

In February 2020, the Ministry of Commerce made it mandatory for honey exports to be screened using NMR technology to detect sugar syrups. EIC (Export Inspection Council) sets up laboratory for this check. But in India, NMR test is not mandatory.

NMR is the advance technology to detect adulteration in honey with sugar syrups by molecular separation and identification. It is the only test that can detect the new modified ‘Chinese sugar’ being used to adulterate honey.

On the other hand, the FSSAI checks the purity of the honey based on 22 mandated tests. Some of them are Fructose to Glucose Ratio, Sucrose (percentage by mass), C4 Sugar (Percent by Mass, Max), Foreign Oligosaccharides and Antibiotics, among others.

The CSE’s research has clearly established that samples adulterated even up to 50 percent can bypass testing for C3 and C4 sugar.

CSE recommendations

Khurana recommended that the government or the FSSAI must test products at the backend as a part of their regular surveillance system and stay informed.

The CSE also stressed that the ring of adulteration needed to be firmly dealt with and that the FSSAI must take urgent steps to stop or break the nexus.

Khurana also wondered why TMR test, a test for Trace Marker for Rice syrup, for detecting adulteration of rice syrup in honey has not been made mandatory by the FSSAI.

After the CSE investigation was made public, the FSSAI in a statement on its website had said a more sensitive Specific Marker for Rice syrup test (SMR) has already been made mandatory and is a more focused test to detect adulteration of rice syrup in honey, hence, it was felt by scientific experts that TMR is not necessary.

Himadri Buch
first published: Dec 10, 2020 07:35 pm

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