New Delhi, December 4, 2020: Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) researchers had a meeting with officials of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) here today to discuss the findings of the investigation in honey adulteration (https://www.cseindia.org/page/eml-laboratory), and to recommend the way ahead.
In the meeting, CSE director general Sunita Narain emphasised that their investigations had revealed that the honey adulteration business was sophisticated and that it was designed to bypass the purity and quality standards laid down by the FSSAI.
CSE presented to the officials of FSSAI, including the chairperson, Rita Teotia and CEO Arun Singhal, the details of the investigation, including the step by step developments which brought the food fraud to light. CSE also showed how Chinese companies were openly advertising products to bypass standards on their website; how it had contacted these companies; and how it had procured the sample.
FSSAI officials asked about the specific names under which the adulterants were being imported into India. CSE explained that on online trade portals like Alibaba, Chinese companies (the same companies that were exporting to India) were using ‘fructose’ and ‘glucose’ as the key words. CSE also provided information about the fact that fructose and glucose were being imported into India – 11,000 tonnes in the past few years. And that the bulk of this was from China. However, CSE explained that the business was devious and that when Chinese companies sent the sample to CSE, it was labelled as syrup.
FSSAI officials wanted to know about the tests conducted on the deliberately adulterated syrup samples, which CSE had procured from China and from a factory in Jaspur. In India, the syrup was called all-pass syrup, CSE explained to FSSAI.
FSSAI representatives enquired why CSE had not asked for ‘SMR’ – specific marker for rice – in the spiked samples that were sent to the NDDB laboratory in Gujarat for testing. FSSAI officials said SMR was required to detect adulteration by rice syrup and that the other tests, namely isotope ratio tests and foreign oligosaccharides, were unable to detect rice syrup adulteration.
CSE explained that this was not the globally understood laboratory test practice. Rice syrup is C3 sugar and the isotope ratio tests have been developed primarily for the detection of such adulterants. In addition, foreign oligosaccharides detect starch-based syrups, which include rice. Therefore, it is well accepted that the combination of C4 and isotope ratio and foreign oligosaccharides are a good combination of methods for testing C3 and C4 sugar.
CSE also stressed that the ring of adulteration needed to be firmly dealt with and that FSSAI must take urgent steps to stop or break the nexus. “Our research has clearly established that samples adulterated even up to 50 per cent can bypass our testing for C3 and C4 sugar,” said Narain.
FSSAI officials asked about the economics of the syrup and why it would be favoured over natural honey. “The Indian and Chinese syrups offered to us were much cheaper – while the sample cost was between Rs 53-68 per kg, we were told that we could get the sample at much more competitive rates once we placed bulk orders,” explained Arnab Dutta from CSE. Also, he added, there is the element of convenience. This syrup is factory made and can be procured in bulk, as against the honey that would be procured from bee-farms in different locations of the country.
FSSAI officials also wanted to know if there is an existing database for Indian honey for effective screening for NMR tests. CSE explained that it had sent the samples for NMR tests to the one of the top food testing laboratories of the world, based in Germany, which has the expertise and necessary databases for NMR screening. Across the world, governments are utilizing the global database of honey specifications, which also includes Indian honey.
CSE added that the German laboratory had confirmed that the honey samples tested had ‘origin in India’ and that the tests were done against the reference database of Indian honey samples. CSE urged the officials of FSSAI to work to improve the reference database as it would improve surveillance in the future.
CSE also explained that in its review of global honey fraud, it was clear that governments were increased concerned and frustrated that the available tests (including isotope ratio) were unable to detect the cheap and readily available modified sugar syrups in honey. It was for this reason that they were increasing using NMR tests to detect this fraud. NMR was not being included in the mandatory regime, but was used as a surveillance tool to detect this sugar syrup. CSE explained that this is why, after it had found the ‘all-pass’ syrup that it had also decided to send samples to Germany for testing using NMR.
Based on requests by FSSAI, CSE has handed over the following samples and documents to allow the regulator to take up this matter expeditiously and to ensure that the nefarious business of adulteration, injurious to our health, is stopped.
FSSAI has said that they will send the adulterant sample for further testing and will also follow up on all the contacts and details provided by CSE of this adulteration business. Based on its review, it has said that it will take the necessary steps to amend the food standard and step up its surveillance.
CSE stressed the urgency of the matter as it involved health, already compromised in the COVID-19 times. “The adulteration business is a double-whammy for us, as we have increased our honey consumption to boost immunity and that instead of honey we are now ingesting sugar. We know that overweight people are more at risk to COVID-19 and therefore, it is necessary that this extremely well-organised honey adulteration business, which is so bad for us, is immediately stopped,” said Narain, urging for strong measures from FSSAI.
Check the complete information on our honey investigations here: https://www.cseindia.org/page/eml-laboratory
To arrange for interviews with our food experts and for any other content help, please contact: Sukanya Nair of The CSE Media Resource Centre, email@example.com, 8816818864.
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