Honey adulteration: CSE tells FSSAI Chinese firms are manipulating market

The FSSAI had earlier sought details of tests conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) that found adulteration in honey.
Honey jar
Honey jar
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Researchers from the Centre for Science and the Environment (CSE) met officials of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on Friday after the latter asked for details of the investigation that found adulteration in samples of honey from major brands including Dabur, Apis Himalaya, Zandu (sold by Emami), Patanjali, Hitkari and Baidyanath. Emami, Dabur, Patnajali Ayurveda and Apis Himalaya have refuted the findings of the study, done collaboratively by CSE and Down to Earth.

While CSE had sent the samples for NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) test to a German lab, which is an internationally accepted standard for honey purity, the FSSAI has questioned why CSE didn’t put the samples through test for SMR – specific marker for rice – at the NDDB laboratory in Gujarat. A release by CSE said that this was not done because SMR is “not the globally understood laboratory test practice”, unlike NMR test.

A release by CSE said that the organization had presented FSSAI, including the chairperson, Rita Teotia and CEO Arun Singhal with the details of the investigation, including each step that brought the alleged adulteration to light. CSE also told FSSAI about how Chinese companies were openly advertising syrups that could pass Indian tests for honey purity, and how CSE was able to procure a sample.

“CSE explained that on online trade portals like Alibaba, Chinese companies (the same companies that were exporting to India) were using ‘fructose’ and ‘glucose’ as the key words. CSE also provided information about the fact that fructose and glucose were being imported into India – 11,000 tonnes in the past few years. And that the bulk of this was from China. However, CSE explained that the business was devious and that when Chinese companies sent the sample to CSE, it was labelled as syrup,” the release said.

Among the other things FSSAI sought information were the economics of the syrup and why it would be preferred over natural honey and if there was an existing database of standards for Indian honey to effectively screen with NMR testing. “CSE explained that it had sent the samples for NMR tests to the one of the top food testing laboratories of the world, based in Germany, which has the expertise and necessary databases for NMR screening. Across the world, governments are utilizing the global database of honey specifications, which also includes Indian honey,” CSE said.

CSE also urged FSSAI to improve the reference database so as to improve existing reference database as it will improve surveillance in the coming time. The organisation also handed over samples and documents to the food regulator. These included sample of the ‘all-pass’ syrup, an adulterant found to be sold in Jaspur, Uttarakhand, to mix with honey; full correspondence with Chinese companies that it solicited the adulterant syrups from; and details od the Fedex consignment that CSE was unable to accept due to lack of documentation, but which might still be available with Fedex.

“FSSAI has said that they will send the adulterant sample for further testing and will also follow up on all the contacts and details provided by CSE of this adulteration business,” the release by CSE said.

This investigation by CSE and Down to Earth, the findings of which were made public on Wednesday, had found that out of the 13 brands tested, 10 failed the test of purity. Only three brands – Saffola, Markfed Sohna and Nature’s Nectar – passed the NMR test.

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