Food safety regulator FSSAI has sought details of the tests conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and raised questions over why its prescribed tests were not undertaken.
In a statement, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) said the CSE found the adulterants by using "the non-prescription" Trace Marker for Rice syrup (TMR) test instead of "a more sensitive" Specific Marker for Rice syrup test (SMR).
While stating that it has taken note of the CSE investigation on adulteration in honey, FSSAI said it had already made the SMR test mandatory as it is "a more focused test to detect adulteration of rice syrup in honey."
"It is not clear as to why some tests like SMR have not been conducted on the samples...," the statement said.
"FSSAI has requested for details of the samples and the tests conducted from CSE."
Once the details are available, they will be analysed by FSSAI to draw conclusions about the protocols followed and suggest any improvements that are required in the test methodology for the future, it added.
"One of the points raised in this investigation is about the non-prescription of Trace Marker for Rice syrup (TMR) for detecting adulteration of rice syrup in honey. In view of the fact, 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," FSSAI said.
This view was concurred by the Ministry of Agriculture, and hence TMR has not been made mandatory as a test method. FSSAI said almost no food regulator in the world has so far mandated NMR as a test method for honey.
Meanwhile, environment watchdog CSE on Thursday stood by its findings that honey sold by several major brands in India was found adulterated with sugar syrup, saying any claim by companies of meeting all Indian standards "holds limited value", as the war of words over the purity of honey grew bitter.
A day after reporting adulteration in the honey sold by major brands in the country, the CSE said any claim by these companies of meeting all Indian standards "holds limited value" and was "jugglery" of language. It also said that business of adulteration is "sophisticated ".
The CSE was responding to statements by Dabur and Patanjali claiming that the honey sold by them meets all domestic testing standards.
"That is what we have been saying -- that the business of adulteration is sophisticated. The Indian labs testing for parameters set by the FSSAI could not detect this evolved adulteration," the environment watchdog said.
"We have also noted that Dabur is constantly changing the language on its claims regarding NMR tests. In earlier advertisements, it has said 'NMR tested, pure honey'; as of today -- after the release of the CSE investigation -- Dabur is claiming 'source NMR tested'," said CSE director general Sunita Narain.
"Is this jugglery another attempt to confuse the consumer? she asked.
The CSE had on Wednesday said its food researchers selected for its study 13 top and smaller brands of processed and raw honey being sold in the country to check their purity. They found 77 per cent of the samples adulterated with the addition of sugar syrup.
Out of the 22 samples checked, only five passed all the tests. The CSE also specified the names of the brands.
Dabur and Patanjali were among those that failed the NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) test.
"Honey samples from leading brands such as Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu, Hitkari and Apis Himalaya, all failed the NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) test," the CSE study said.
Emami (Zandu), Dabur, Patnajali Ayurveda and Apis Himalaya have refuted the claims made by the CSE.
Dabur and Patanjali have questioned the not-for-profit environment organisation's claims, and alleged that the study seems to be motivated and aimed at maligning their brands.
The CSE in its statement on Thursday said, "Any claim of meeting all Indian standards actually holds limited value".
"We stand by our findings. Our findings have revealed that 10 out of 13 brands have failed all tests of purity. Most of these are big brands, including Dabur. This is not only about Dabur. In fact, we have talked about how smaller brands are also adulterated," it said.
The CSE further said Dabur's claim about compliance with Indian laws comes as "no surprise".
"The fact that samples deliberately adulterated by us by up to 50 per cent of syrups passed all Indian tests is a robust proof of this (sophisticated adulteration). So, any claim of meeting all Indian standards actually holds limited value," it said.
On allegations of Patanjali that the move is to promote the German technology, the CSE said the NMR test is being used in different parts of the world for the same reason and even the Indian government has mandated it since August 2020 for honey meant to be exported.
"So, it could be important to include such advanced testing in government testing system that can help the enforcement agencies to know if the honey sold to consumers is adulterated or not. It can also help the agencies know which companies are selling adulterated honey, which is a crime, and take required punitive action against the defaulters," the CSE said.
"In fact, we have emphasised that NMR should not be made mandatory because it will likely help for a limited time -- the business of adulteration is so sophisticated that very soon there would be syrups which can bypass the NMR test as well," it added.
Patanjali Ayurved's Managing Director Acharya Balkrishna had on Wednesday said, "It seems to be a plot to defame Indian natural honey industry and manufacturers in a bid to promote processed honey".
In view of lack of database, high skill requirement, high operating cost and high capital investment, FSSAI said its scientific panel has opined that NMR is not required at this juncture.