Stinging facts

| Updated on December 07, 2020 Published on December 07, 2020

The CSE study on contamination in honey is a wake-up call for a sector with potential

A study of samples of select Indian brands of honey prima facie suggests that they are liberally adulterated with cheap sugar syrup, imported from China. The Centre of Science and Environment, which had tested the 13 honey samples using the German technique, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, claims that these very samples seemed fine after an analysis by a premier NDDB facility. Food regulator FSSAI has raised some questions over the tests, while the firms have denied these claims. The controversy raises quality concerns over a product that is widely used as an immunity booster and prophylactic, more so in the context of Covid-19. The process of beekeeping, from the farm to the processing stage, needs to be reformed, if India is serious about expanding the consumption and export of honey. Efforts to boost honey output through the ‘Sweet Kranti’ mission introduced in May 2017, are laudable.

According to a June 2019 report on beekeeping by the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, around four lakh people are involved in beekeeping, producing “90 to 95 thousand tonnes of honey” every year from 34 lakh bee colonies; the rest being harvested from rock bee colonies in open spaces. An entomological study points out that “Approximately 73 per cent of the world’s cultivated crops are pollinated by bees, 19 per cent by flies, 6.5 per cent by bats, 5 per cent by wasps, 5 per cent by beetles, 4 per cent by birds, and 4 per cent by butterflies and moths”. The EAC report says that oilseeds, orchard crops, legumes and vegetables benefit from apiculture, increasing crop yield to the “extent of 20-80 per cent in most cultivated crops”. But India, with the second largest arable land area, can produce many times its existing output, and employ 21.5 million people from the poorer sections of the rural population, the report observes.

While honey production has increased, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, from 51,000 tonnes in 2006-07 to 115,000 tonnes in 2018-19, India ranks eighth in the world (China being No 1) and fifth as an exporter. It, however, exports about half its output, fetching about ₹7,000 crore annually. In its potential to support incomes with low initial investment (10 bee boxes per beneficiary, each costing about ₹5,000, can yield an annual income of ₹30,000) apiculture is unique. All the more reason, then, to ensure that standards are maintained. Bees are contaminated not only by the use of sugar syrup in processing but also through pesticide and antibiotics use. The use of antibiotics such as terramycin and oxytetracycline to deal with bee-related disease has raised questions in European markets where residue standards are stringent. India must raise its bar on testing, apply the best technologies, and integrate beekeeping with organic farming initiatives, which will bolster the economic viability of the latter.

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Published on December 07, 2020
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