Over 300 bee keepers, bee-keeping enthusiasts, and honey consumers register for CSE’s webinar on the bee-keeping sector and the threat it faces due to adulteration of honey by big corporates
Bee-keepers being forced to abandon their profession and business because of mounting losses since 2015
Attending bee-keepers raise a number of very pertinent issues plaguing the sector
New Delhi, December 10, 2020: “We have to thank our bee-keepers for opening our eyes to the enormous food fraud that is being perpetrated on Indian consumers in the name of “pure” honey. Our investigation was triggered by concerns expressed by bee-keepers. It is a profession that is in serious jeopardy today, and we need to bring this to the attention of everyone,” said Sunita Narain, director general, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), while inaugurating a webinar for and on bee-keepers which CSE organised here today.
A week ago, CSE investigators blew the lid off a systematic business of adulteration in honey, quoting lab tests which found samples of 10 honey brands (out of 13 tested) adulterated with sugar syrup (see the entire story here: https://www.cseindia.org/page/eml-laboratory). The investigation report, which was carried in the English and Hindi language editions of Down To Earth magazine (www.downtoearth.org.in), pointed out that a huge quantity of modified sugar syrups is being imported from China as well as manufactured in India; and that adulteration with such syrups remains undetected in the country.
“We were alerted by bee-keepers from different parts of the country, that the price they were getting had crashed over the last several years. Many were now shunning bee-keeping; others were no longer keen to continue. With honey sales booming during the COVID-19 pandemic, we struggled to understand the reason and hence began this investigation with some clues at hand,” said Amit Khurana, programme director, food safety and toxins, CSE.
Speaking to CSE-Down To Earth investigators, many bee-keepers from India’s northern states pointed to the decline in their business in these words: “Till 2014-15, bee farmers had been getting a reasonably good price for their honey. The decline started after that, and it has been rapid. From Rs 150 per kg, our honey prices have dipped down to just Rs 60-70 per kg. It does not give us enough returns any more, and many of us are, therefore, contemplating moving on to some other business and profession.”
“Despite a Rs 500-crore government programme in aid of the bee-keeping sector, why were bee-keepers in such dire straits?” asks Khurana.
CSE’s investigations revealed that the bee-keepers’ livelihoods is being threatened by the massive use of sugar syrups to spike honey; compared to the more expensive pure honey, sugar syrups cost the honey brands anything between Rs 53-70 a kg, and thus fattened their profit margins enormously.
The investigation exposed how much evolved the business of adulteration really is: Indian standards cannot catch this sophisticated adulteration. Most of the popular brands passed the tests at the Indian laboratory – Centre for Analysis and Learning in Livestock and Food of the National Dairy Development Board – conducted as per the July 2020 standards of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). But these same samples failed when subjected to advanced tests -- Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) profiling and Trace Marker for rice syrup (TMR) – conducted at a German laboratory; CSE had sent the samples to the laboratory for testing.
Says Khurana: “We also found out that the Government of India has mandated the NMR test for honey meant for exports, while the FSSAI has dropped the TMR test from its latest standards.”
CSE says Chinese companies play a role in the honey adulteration happening in India. Says Sonal Dhingra of CSE’s food safety and toxins team: “These companies advertise on trade websites (such as Alibaba.com) about sugar syrups (often named as fructose syrups) which can go undetected, and have been exporting huge quantities of these modified syrups to India for several years. These syrups are now also manufactured in India and sold illegally as ‘all pass syrups’. What is worse, these syrups – which are available at less than half the price of what a beekeeper should get for his raw honey – remained undetected when they were tested at the Indian laboratory after deliberately adulterating samples at up to 50 per cent.”
CSE brought together four bee-keepers as panelists in this webinar: Tanzeem Ansari, president of the Saharanpur-based Ekta Gramodyog Sansthan, a training facility for bee farmers; Om Prakash Chaudhary of the Beekeeper’s Welfare Association in Bharatpur; Arvind Saini, a bee farmer from Saharanpur; and Narpinder Singh, president of the Progressive Beekeepers Association in Punjab.
All the four panelists clearly enumerated the crisis that bee-keeping industry is facing. According to Ansari, “pollination -- which is absolutely crucial for agriculture and food security – and pollinators (bees and their keepers) have become completely marginalised today”. Bee-keepers are beset by declining production of honey, rising costs of production, low returns, non-optimal and wasteful use of government funding, and lack of effective training or awareness generation initiatives for bee farmers.
Giving her concluding remarks in the webinar, Narain said: “It is clear that the scale and nature of this adulteration is impacting us at different levels. It is affecting our health and is making us more vulnerable to Covid-19 and other ailments. It is also the reason why bee-keepers’ livelihoods are getting hit. If we have no bee-keepers, there will be no bees, and no honey. More importantly, bees help us grow food through pollination. Without them, there will be no food, and no life.”
For the Hindi version of this release, please visit: www.cseindia.org
For more information, interviews etc, please contact Sukanya Nair of The CSE Media Resource Centre: firstname.lastname@example.org, 8816818864.