CSE’s honey exposé shows need for tighter regulation; FSSAI needs to set internationally-recognised standards

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December 10, 2020 4:30 AM

In the light of the CSE exposé, many brands have chosen to highlight that their honey meets the standards set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

The CSE reports that a sophisticated test—nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)—to detect sugar adulteration conducted at a specialised laboratory in Germany found traces of adulteration in these brands

A Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) investigation shows that 10 of 13 honey brands including Patanjali, Dabur, Baidyanath, Zandu, etc, fail sugar adulteration tests that are mandatory for honey exported out of the country. The CSE reports that a sophisticated test—nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)—to detect sugar adulteration conducted at a specialised laboratory in Germany found traces of adulteration in these brands. Indeed, in the light of the CSE exposé, many brands have chosen to highlight that their honey meets the standards set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). But, therein lies the rub.

The investigation found that Chinese fructose syrups ensured that even a 50% adulteration met the standards set by the FSSAI. Beyond the Chinese (Trojan) Horse—units in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab have been allegedly producing the syrup with the aid of Chinese technology—the larger problem is that the food regulator has merely been playing ‘catch up’. While the Union government notified, in August, the need for Indian honey earmarked for export passing NMR checks, these have not been mandated for the domestic market. There has been a dilution of standards, too. For instance, pollen count norms—reduced pollen count makes masking adulteration with sugar easier—were brought to a tenth of the initial requirement suggested in 2017. Similarly, a crucial test for detecting C3 sugar adulterants has been dropped in the latest list of testing requirements. FSSAI not only needs to set higher standards for the domestic market, it also needs to initiate CSE-style investigations. However, it can’t achieve this with a budget of $20 million— contrast this with its peers in the US ($1.5 billion) and the UK ($106 million).

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