Indians may be buying more honey to build immunity against the Covid-19 virus — honey is both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory — but a Chinese syrup, a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) investigation found, is actually making the honey more unsafe. Most Indian brands CSE tested — Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath and Zandu, among others — failed (https://bit.ly/3g2JNXE). Only Saffola, Markfed Sohna and Nature’s Nectar, CSE said, passed the test.
Ironically, it appears, the government may have been aware of this as since August this year, it has made the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) test mandatory for honey that needs to be exported; this test that helped CSE establish its findings has, however, not been made compulsory for honey that is sold locally. In order to stop firms selling honey — strictly, nectar from plants that is digested/collected by bees — from adding sugar to it, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) prescribes certain tests.
When CSE began its investigations and carried out the conventional test at the NDDB laboratory in Gujarat, nearly all of the top brands passed the test though a few smaller brands failed and were found to be containing C4 sugars (derived from C4 photosynthetic plants such as sugarcane and corn) that are basic adulterants.
When the same honey was tested using NMR by a specialised laboratory in Germany, however, only three were found to be free of sugar adulterants.
In 2019, CSE reports, FSSAI had informed food commissioners in various states about sugar syrup being used to adulterate honey, and in May 2020, asked importers of ‘golden syrup’, ‘rice syrup’ and ‘invert sugar syrup’ to register with it and inform it on usage of these products. However, the CSE investigation found that ‘golden syrup’ and ‘rice syrup’ were not on the list of imported items, as per filings with the Union commerce ministry. Instead, Chinese websites listed ‘fructose syrups’ with claims that these won’t get detected by the conventional sugar detection tests. On checking with government data, CSE found these were being imported in bulk from Chinese companies.
CSE says the advertisements of this fructose, in fact, said that this could be mixed with honey and would beat the C3 and C4 tests. CSE sent mails to these firms confirming whether this property indeed existed and even got samples of this syrup that, it was told, could pass tests even if 50-80% of the honey comprised this syrup. As it happens, the syrup is now even made in India, in Uttarkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab, under the code-name ‘all-pass’ syrup.
If the honey sold in India is to retain its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties, what this means, is that FSSAI needs to be more vigilant and local standards have to be the same as they are for exports. Indeed, adding more sugar to the diet – through the use of adulterated honey – makes Indians more obese and, therefore, more vulnerable to Covid-19.