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The bee, not the brand — India needs to bet its money on the right honey

India has been using honey for thousands of years. And right when it needed it the most — Covid season — CSE accused most top brands including Dabur and Patanjali of adulterating.

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In 1974, ABBA sang, “Honey honey, don’t conceal it, a-ha, honey honey”. Many decades later, Indian media discovered what was really concealed in the honey — Chinese sugar. The Centre for Science and Environment or CSE food researchers have found that most honey sold in the Indian market is adulterated. Some have called this India’s ‘Honeygate’. Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu have all reportedly failed the purity test.

This comes at a time when India is using copious amounts of honey and concoctions made with it to ward off the novel coronavirus. But something else ticked off the CSE to launch an investigation — why were honey farmers in north India reporting a massive dip in profits when the sales of honey had hit the roof?

The CSE has alleged that Indian honey companies had designed their products to pass the regulations laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), but it was a German lab that saw through the tinkering with sugar syrup. The brands have rejected the findings and called it an attempt to malign them.

What’s more, even the bees are not having it easy as the world desperately tries to keep several species from going extinct. If bees go out of business, a part of our food chain collapses.

And that’s why honey, the golden liquid, is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.

Also read: I ate the non-vegetarian Harappan meal and had no beef with it

India is ‘honey trapped’

‘Immunity’ — that’s the word that saw a 350 per cent increase in Google searches during the lockdown. And when Indians think of immunity, honey features in the top hits. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi batted for the AYUSH ministry’s home remedies in coronavirus season, which included honey-pepper. But what if we are consuming sugar in the name of honey?

‘Nuclear Magnetic Resonance’ — that’s the phrase that not many in India are googling. It’s what reportedly caught the honey adulteration that passed through undetected in Indian tests. It identifies modified sugar syrups. Out of the 13 brands tested, only three — Saffola, MarkfedSohna and Nature’s Nectar — passed this test done by the German lab.

Now, many will say the test of purity is when honey doesn’t freeze or crystallise in the fridge or in winter. Frankly, most of the honey in my kitchen cupboard have crystals.

So, how did the brands pass the FSSAI tests called C3 and C4? China has created several sugar syrups that go undetected in tests. You could buy them off Alibaba and other sites, and import them to India, some labelled as ‘paint’ to go under the radar. In Indian markets, these sugars were called ‘All Pass’. Read this deep dive in Down To Earth.

The decade before this was crowded with stories of what really goes into bottles of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. That led the CSE to blink. Reports of pesticides in the Indian drinks and more toxins than in the beverages of the developed world were heaped on the cola giants. In 2012, Ramdev accused the drinks of being ‘toilet cleaners’ — a story that stuck. Now Patanjali and its honey are on the CSE’s radar.

“It is a food fraud more nefarious and more sophisticated than what we found in our 2003 and 2006 investigations into soft drinks; more damaging to our health than perhaps anything that we have found till now — keeping in mind the fact that we are still fighting against a killer Covid-19 pandemic with our backs to the wall. This overuse of sugar in our diet will make it worse,” CSE’s Sunita Narain told Business Today.

The CSE realised that raw honey adulterated to even 50 per cent of the content passed the Indian tests. On 1 August this year, India made the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance test mandatory for all honey exports — surely something was up.

“The recent reports seem motivated and aimed at maligning our brand. We assure our consumers that Dabur Honey is 100% Pure. It is 100% indigenous, collected naturally from Indian sources and packed with no added sugar or other adulterants,” a Dabur spokesperson told ThePrint. Dabur has also said that its honey sample had indeed passed an earlier NMR test. Others said it was an attempt to lower market share of Indian honey.

The Indian Express reported that according to data from the National Bee Board, India exported 1.05 lakh metric tonnes of honey in 2017-18, a 200 per cent jump in 12 years. The government also gives a considerable sum to bee farming.

Honey is one of the most adulterated food products in the world. But it’s time to put our money where the honey’s at. Because buzz of adulteration won’t sit well with honey consumers. And consume we have, since time immemorial.

Also read: Greater quality checks soon on milk, edible oil, honey, meat & poultry, says FSSAI new CEO

Land of milk and honey

The Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh have prehistoric cave paintings that show people breaking beehives formed on rocks. T.K. Achaya, the go-to person when it comes to India’s food history, writes that these paintings can be dated to 6,000 BC. Honey was also a regular in Harappan kitchens, often tossed with puffed rice or flax seeds.

The Rigveda points to Indians cultivating honey from artificial hives made for bees. One hymn (187) goes like this: “O sweet food, honeyed food, we have chosen for you: for us be a helper” (Feasts and Fasts, Colleen Taylor Sen). The Mahabharata has references to beekeepers — suggesting that honey was quite a commodity by then. It also has references to feasts of meat curries bubbling in ghee with honey and fruits on the side.

When we were growing up, we were told tales of Sundarban’s honey farmers who would go into the dense swamps to collect forest honey. They would go in groups, sing to ward off predators, carry sticks, and wear a tiger mask on the back of their heads. Why? Because a tiger attacks when you are not looking. So a pair of eyes behind your head was important.

It’s the forest produce or small farmers and beekeepers that most people in India are now turning to after allegations of adulteration in commercial brands. The FSSAI has announced that it is looking into the CSE’s findings.

The bees aren’t waiting.

Views are personal.

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  1. Come on guys. Take it easy. Honey available in the market is only a slow poison and it’s far far less damaging than a snake bite.

  2. Oh my god I too consumed along with family members quite a considerable quantity of Patanjali Honey during Covid lock down… Really surprise to know hike in bloodSugar level…what a cheating with inhuman food adulteration…
    It is high time to administer a food adulteration on food supplies and food products with severed penalty clause including life ban

  3. How to know if honey I bought is genuine or not have been using Dabur honey believing for the last 20 years ,ho my god , please help me know this

    • I am myself a beekeeper. When it comes to Purity, usually Honey gets crystallised and become solid. But these companies propagated a box that pure Honey didn’t crystallises. Because of this farmers were unable to sell their honey itself and had to sold their honey to these companies at cheep rate. What they companies do is mix honey which is rich in Dextrose with fructose syrup so that honey may not cristalise. So whenever you go to buy honey make sure you are buying cristalised honey.

  4. I was shocked to know about adulteration is Dabur honey ,have been using for the last 20 years,now don’t know what to do ,how to know or test at home if product is genuine or not , anyone help to test at home atleast in future

  5. After seeing Fituber’s video on YouTube, I have stopped consuming honey. Why pay more when actual sugar is ₹40/kg. These criminals should be punished with severe fines, if nothing else!

  6. It’s terrible that common people always get cheated by money making monsters, we shld try snd buy directly from farms, I am sure everyone has a native or they someone who produces goods, better to pay directly and buy

  7. This article is talking about the quality of honey these companies export. The tests mentioned are for export products. So I’m sure honey made for domestic consumption is far worse. Not so much of scrutiny, minimal tests required and you can always bribe someone if they refuse to pass the product. God help us!
    First milk, then honey.

  8. Why tf is NMR test mandatory only for exported honey?
    Are we Indians a joke to you?
    Why isn’t it mandatory for consumer honey in India?

  9. Why do you do it Baba? You talk of Indian products. You import Chinese yoga mats and loudmouth for indigenous products. You import Chinese rice sugar when the whole of India INCLUDING YOU shout VOCAL FOR LOCAL. HYPOCRITE OF THE FIRST ORDER thriving under the patronage of ruling politicians.

  10. All that’s is fine …. Do I break the hive myself or someone will tell me which honey to buy . Honey so cheap ofc was questionable , why would you eat ?? Even coconut oil , jaggery , milk and such daily food intake items .

  11. शहद भारत के हर घर में सबसे अधिक इस्तेमाल होने वाला उत्पाद है डाबर पतंजलि बिग बास्केट ओरिफ्लेम श्री श्री जी जी सभी शहद बेच रहे हैं और शहद के स्थान पर सिरप यानी चासनी जो चीनी से बनाई जाती है उसका उपयोग कर रहे हैं यह बहुत ही दुखद है सरकार को इस विषय में कड़ा कदम उठाना चाहिए

  12. I knew something has to be wrong. It all started when some unknown/new brands started selling honey with deep discounts. I knew something was wrong when some established brands like dabur also starting discounts and giving one bottle free with other. Even i bought it. Now I know what they really did.

  13. We trusted these P & D India companies blindly & finally what found? 13 or so brands have been found adultering honey and they have been marketing these products keeping the consumer’s health at risk.Now the branded companies are found guilty who are telling 100% original Honey….

  14. It’s a good return of slap for people who believes in branding and brand ambassador. Do not trust anything or anybody, if in doubt test it yourself. We are prone to be fooled by celebrities who vouch these products.

  15. All these culprits must be arrest and prisoned for 10-20 Years. also boycott all these so called Swadeshi products

  16. Now I know why even after following a strict diet and exercise regimen, my HbA1c levels increased. Thanks to the adulterated Dabur Honey widely advertised by celebrities !!
    They should be taken to the consumer forum, slapped hefty fines and made to apologize to the people who trusted them.

  17. Why don’t the investigators demand an official visit to the processing units of Dabur, Patanjali to study for themselves how the operations are carried out right from procuring the supply from beehives to packing the end product. Manufacturers statements and FSSAI press reports don’t help the consumers ; direct intervention at the procurement, processing at various stages, packing sites will reveal the truth or claim of 100% purity by the producers.

  18. I feel Govt should come up on those firms heavily who are adulterating honey if CSE report is to be believed; for the sake of health of its citizens. This is something unpardonable.

  19. FSSAI must be dissolved and new organisation must be formed. Not only honey but many other consumables are adulterated. Fssai works as a gatekeeper for controlling competition by the corporates. For Babas with lots of money, it bites the corporate occasionally. In short it is NOT doing what it should for a very long time. They all should be SACKED immediately.

  20. FSSAI must be dissolved and new organisation must be formed. Not only honey but many other consumables are adulterated. Fssai works as a gatekeeper for controlling competition by the corporates. For Babas with lots of money, it bites the corporate occasionally. In short it is NOT doing what it should for a very long time. They all should be SACKED immediately.

  21. kaafi logo ko 30 Saal Pahile se hi maloom hai ki Bazaar ka Honey nakali hai , Par BAHUT afsos hai ki BHARAT SARKAAR Ko Aaj Tak Nahi maloom !
    Vaise yahan kafi Kuch nakali hai ।
    Ye Honey to Bahut choti cheej hai। Don’t worry be Happy 👍

  22. Dabur Honey is very much adulterated and so is Patanjali brand of honey.
    Last Winter, I noticed several crystals inside the almost depleted Dabur honey bottle which I was using. So, we shifted to Patanjali.
    And this year also we notice small crystals inside the Patanjali honey jars.

  23. 13 or so brands have been found adultering honey and they have been marketing these products keeping the consumer’s health at risk.Now the branded companies are found guilty.What next? Do these companies remove their product from the shelves or will the govt make them to do so.corrupt govt.corrupt businessmen

  24. Shocking, to note patanjali, is adultrant of honey, never thought they would stoop so low
    ,& treat their customers so calluosly in the name of Swadeshi products, really shocking,

  25. This is absolutely criminal, if true. A criminal action should be taken against such parties with imprisonment for trying to ruin people’s health. How heartless can one get !!!

  26. Why government agencies are silent. Volley samples from marker and get them tasted. Defaulter, any company for that matter, should be booked. Strictures rules/acts to be enacted.

  27. Is it only with honey thy took purity test.
    Why not for the other products too like Ghee, Milk which we regularly use .

  28. Boycott dabar, patanjali n all their products
    Modiji..if you really think that you are the father of this nation than prove it. Make food adultration a non bailable crime with 20 yrs in jail n cancelling its licence forever

  29. Brands like Dabur , Zandu & Patanjali are selling adulterated honey is shocking but they are adding Chinese Sugar ,is a shocker……..Matlab Patanjali and Chinese sugar ,,,,,OMG

  30. Why can’t the GOI ban the honey brands that have been found out to be adulterated with sugar syrups. If they say it’s pure they should be put in prison when it’s otherwise they should be heavily fined and be kept in bars for a minimum period of 5 years. Can the government do this? Why can’t we adopt the German technology of testing purity of honey. But here there is a hitch. The samples collected may be pure but going to markets may be adulterated ones. How can one have a check? Heartless beasts whose eyes are on money making.

  31. Sir Jo honey ap sell Kar raho vo kha SA at h ap k pass jab ki ap to beekipeer SA honey lat he Nahi my address village soda khadi kurukshatr Haryana contact number 9896816427

  32. Our country has many corrupt idiots as politicians. Their legacy percolates deep down into the administration. where from they come? From us only! Yes, we have to suffer and endure.

  33. These people has to be prisoned for long time. Govt must take strong action on this. It was so shocking for all of us when we can to know that we’re consuming sugar all these days, ..GOD. even the celebrities, who showcase these wrong products as original they also to be investigated severely

  34. Amazing . It is very shocking news. We used to buy only Dabur thinking in mind that it must be very perfect ,no adulteration. Omg whom to believe.

    • Hi, if you are looking for best honey brand, then you can contact me, I have the world’s best honey brand (forever living honey). I’m a forever living dealer. You can even check it in the internet. Contact me at 8088646164

  35. What I don’t understand is how this news is a shock to anyone?
    Who in the right mind can trust these brands to be sourcing real honey for massive industrial scale quantity, it’s unthinkable.

  36. India is most corrupt country where everything is out of control. The govt agencies are worthless & most corrupt who are useless and is wastage of tax payers money. The main reason of lawlessness is political corruption.

    • Food safety authorities in India are corrupt just like most other government agencies that deal with companies.

      How did this escape them? Not at all surpising.

      But let’s hear from them before we pass judgement…

  37. Government should do something and will book guilty at farm hand mainly to those who are wearing gerua dress and cheating million of us. How CSR Act will act if they earn crores and is spending only 2% on PAT.

  38. Dabur Honey. Army canteens have become dumping ground. Leave fridge it crystals even out of fridge. Next on the line should be olive oil testing. There seems to mass scale adultration. Print please follow those who plays with the health of people.

  39. Food adulteration is a common phenomenon in India. It’s because of population and affordable income of the late. There are some type of the food: milk, honey n oils which depends on aggregate of these raw products n processing. But there is no quality check at primary collection centre. The profits attract big names n people associated with the brand than a product. Poor consumer education compound the problem.

  40. Omg!!!! We were consuming Sugar syrup all these days… How could this business firms do such adulteration, we believe in certain brands … Now we loose trust on these brands… Even on other products… very depressing…

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