CSE stands by its report on adulteration of honey sold by Dabur, Patanjali in India

Honey samples from leading brands such as Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu, Hitkari and Apis Himalaya all failed the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance test, the study had said

CSE stands by its report on adulteration of honey sold by Dabur, Patanjali in India

NH Web Desk

Honey sold by several major brands in India has been found adulterated with sugar syrup, environment watchdog Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) claimed on Wednesday. CSE food researchers selected 13 top as well as smaller brands of processed and raw honey being sold in India to check their purity. It was found that 77 per cent of the samples were adulterated with the addition of sugar syrup. 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. According to the Centre for Science and Environment, almost all the top brands passed the tests of purity, while a few smaller brands failed the tests to detect C4 sugar--it is the basic adulteration using cane sugar. "But when the same brands were tested using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) laboratory tests currently being used globally to check for such modified sugar syrups almost all big and small brands failed. Out of the 13 brands tests, only three passed the NMR test, which was done by a specialised laboratory in Germany," it claimed.

"What we found was shocking. It shows how the business of adulteration has evolved so that it can pass the stipulated tests in India. 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," said Amit Khurana, programme director of CSE's Food Safety and Toxins team. The CSE also claimed that it tracked down Chinese trade portals which were advertising fructose syrup that can bypass tests to check adulteration. It also found that the same Chinese companies that advertised this fructose syrup that can beat C3 and C4 tests were also exported to India. CSE director general Sunita Narain said they then conducted an undercover operation to find out more.

"Chinese companies informed CSE that even if 50-80 per cent of the honey is adulterated with syrup, it would pass all stipulated tests. A sample of the syrup that can bypass tests was then sent by the Chinese company as paint pigment to get through customs," she claimed.

Commenting on the development, Patanjali Ayurved spokesperson S K Tijarawala told PTI, "We manufacture only the natural honey, which is approved by the food regulator FSSAI. Our product meets the standards laid by FSSAI.” He also alleged that it was a conspiracy to defame the natural honey producers of the country.

"This is a conspiracy to sell German technology and costly machinery. This is also a conspiracy to defame the natural honey producers of the country and promote the processed honey. This would also dampen India's contribution to the global honey market," he said.

Dabur too refuted the claim, saying the recent reports seem "motivated and aimed at maligning our brand". "We assure our consumers that Dabur honey is 100 per cent pure. It is 100 per cent indigenous, collected naturally from Indian sources and packed with no added sugar or other adulterants. We also assure our consumers that Dabur does not import any honey/syrup from China and our honey is sourced entirely from Indian beekeepers," it said in a statement.

It added that Dabur is complying with all 22 parameters mandated by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India for testing honey. "In addition, Dabur honey is also tested for the presence of antibiotics, as mandated by 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. This is to ensure that Dabur Honey is 100 per cent pure without any adulteration," it said. Dabur also shared a copy of an NMR test report from Germany that stated that Dabur honey has passed the test.

CSE responds to statements from Dabur and Patanjali on its investigation in honey adulteration:

On December 2, 2020, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) released its findings on the nefarious business of adulteration in honey, which is damaging people’s health. Two of India’s big names in the business – Dabur and Patanjali – have issued statements to the media on CSE’s findings. CSE responded to these statements today.

Regarding Dabur’s claim about maligning its brand and that its honey is NMR passed from Germany and is meeting Indian standards:

CSE says: 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. This is about the consumer’s health. We have shared detailed laboratory results of all samples on our website.

The NMR test report available on Dabur’s website and shared with media in support of the company’s statement is a report of the Bruker equipment/machine for NMR profiling. Bruker is a company which developed NMR and promotes it. We would like to make the consumer aware that this is not a laboratory report, which involves expert

interpretation of the information by the equipment. In the case of NMR, it is critical that final conclusion on a sample’s adulteration is based on interpretation and confirmation by a laboratory expert on NMR. Even the report shared by Dabur mentions that expert interpretation is necessary before deducing any conclusion.

On the other hand, CSE has shared the findings based on laboratory reports from Germany, which involves expert interpretation and confirmation of the data obtained by the machine/equipment. This is a universally accepted practice.

Furthermore, Dabur has shared the report of only one sample. Also, there is no mention of the batch number of the sample tested. So, it remains unclear which batch is being talked about. On the other hand, we have provided three batch numbers of three samples tested of Dabur; that is BM3463, with the date of manufacture of May 25, 2020; BM3589, manufactured on July 10, 2020; and BM3636, manufactured on August 5, 2020. All three batches were found to be adulterated. In the absence of this information on laboratory test by the batch number, Dabur’s claim of purity is not tenable.

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”. “Is this jugglery another attempt to confuse the consumer?” asks CSE director general Sunita Narain.

Dabur’s claim about compliance with Indian laws is no surprise. 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 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. So, any claim of meeting all Indian standards actually holds limited value.

Regarding media reports which quote Patanjali, where CSE is being accused of promoting the German technology:

CSE says: We would like to make our position clear once again about this. NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) is an advanced test that can detect adulteration with modified sugar syrups, which may otherwise go undetected. It 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.

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.

CSE’s report on laboratory results of honey testing is available here:

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Published: 03 Dec 2020, 7:41 PM