Honey adulteration and laws related to food adulteration in India

This analysis is developed based on the article “Leading honey brands fail adulteration test by foreign lab, says CSE” of Business Standard

News: In the most recent case of adulteration, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), 77% of honey samples were found to be adulterated with sugar syrup.

What are the Findings of CSE?  

  • Out of 13 big brands including Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu, Hitkari, and Apis Himalaya etc., only 3 brands passed all the tests.
  • Some of India’s famous honey brands, including Dabur, Patanjali, and Emami, although passed the tests in India, failed in adulteration tests carried out by German Laboratory.
  • On the other hand, few smaller brands failed laboratory tests for both Indian and foreign standards.
  • The level of adulteration in big brands is such that tests carried out by an Indian laboratory were unable to detect the contamination in top brands and could only be caught after the use of an advanced laboratory test called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) in Germany.
  • Natural honey acquired from bees is mixed with sugar syrup acquired from rice, corn, beetroot, and sugarcane.
  • Domestic manufacturers are allegedly sourcing sugar syrup from China for contamination of honey as the sugar syrup is available at half the price of raw honey.
  • The decreasing cost has been indicated by falling prices of raw honey at ~60-70 per kg now from ~150 per kg six years ago, despite increasing demand for honey among the general public.
  • In the most recent development, all of the big brands have refuted the reports and allegations of adulteration.

What is food adulteration?

  • In India, where the population is huge and the mechanism of monitoring is lax, acts of food adulteration have become a common phenomenon.
  • Adulteration is the act of degrading the nature or quality of food by incidental or intentional means through the addition or mixing of poor quality, inferior, harmful, substandard, useless, or unnecessary substances to food.
  • Adulteration lowers the quality of food and sometimes, toxic chemicals are also added which can be hazardous to health.

Food Adulteration has been defined comprehensively under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. As per the act, food is adulterated if

  • Any low-grade or inexpensive substance that has been replaced wholly or partly in the article making its nature, substance, or quality injurious;
  • It contains any other substance which disturbs or is so processed as nature, substance or quality will have injurious effect;
  • Any essential component of the article that has been wholly or partly distracted so as to affect injuriously nature, substance, or quality.

According to the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 the food articles containing some ingredients in excess of the prescribed amount which is not hazardous for consumption will not be considered adulterated.

Most common adulterants in India

  • Corn starch, sawdust, and flour are used as ‘fillers’ in spices.
  • Khoya is adulterated with paper, refined oil, and skimmed milk powder
  • Milk has been adulterated with diluted water, detergent, fat, and even urea.
  • Tea leaves are usually adulterated with the same colored leaves, some of which might not even be edible and cause liver infection.
  • Wheat is very commonly adulterated with ergot, a fungus containing poisonous substances, and is extremely injurious to health.
  • Oxytocin saccharin, wax, calcium carbide, and copper sulphate are very common adulterants in fruits and vegetables.
  • Arhar dal is most commonly adulterated with metanil yellow. Long-term consumption of metanil yellow on the developing and adult brain causes neurotoxicity.
  • Consumption of adulterated food items leads to the accumulation of a toxic substance in the body, which may further lead to heart failure, liver and kidney disorders.

Laws against food adulteration in India

Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (FSS Act, 2006)

  • In 2006, the government enacted the FSS Act, which repealed all other laws governing food quality in India at that time. The act empowered the central government to frame rules under the act to deal with several aspects with respect to the regulation of food safety.
  • FSSAI: Act established the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) to supervises and regulate food safety and standards. FSSAI is empowered to establish various other authorities like the Central Advisory Committee, Scientific Panels, and committees for consultation and opinions in the matters of food safety.
  • Food Commissioners: The Act empowers the State Government to appoint a Commissioner of Food Safety for the State for effective implementation of the provisions at the State level.
  • Food Safety officers: Food Commissioner is authorised to appoint Food Safety officers for each district.
    • A food safety officer is the authorized person to inspect the safety and security of food that is being served in restaurants or street food stalls.
    • In case the food inspected by an officer is not fresh or had got spoilt, the FSSAI officer has all the rights to stop the production of such food and issue a warning in writing to the organizer.
  • Licensing: Act prohibits any person to operate any food business without a license from the designated officers.
  • It provides for the punishment for the Import, manufacture, storage, sale or distribution of any food article which is adulterated and compensation to the victims.
  • the Act also regulates the food products which can be imported.

Rules framed under the act

Following are some of the rules enacted by the government:

  • Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulation, 2011.
  • Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulation, 2011.
  • Food Safety and Standards (Laboratory and Sampling Analysis) Regulation, 2011.
  • Food Safety and Standards (Food Product Standards and Food Additives) Regulation, 2011.

Indian Penal Code, 1860

According to Section 272 and 273, food or drink adulteration or sale of such food or drink is an offense punishable with imprisonment which may extend to six months or fine or both.

DART

FSSAI has set up an online platform named DART (Detect Adulteration with Rapid Test) for checking the quality of various food articles like milk, dairy products, oils, grains, fruits, vegetables, sugar, beverages, etc.

Consumer Protection Act, 2019

The Act provides for punishment by a competent court for the manufacture or sale of adulterant/spurious goods. The court may, in case of the first conviction, suspend any license issued to the person for a period of up to two years, and in case of second or subsequent conviction, cancel the license permanently.

Causes of adulteration

Profit motive: Big and small business owners are adulterating the products to maximize their profits by reducing the cost of producing them. For ex; in the case of honey, producers have been allegedly using sugar syrup which is less costly compared to raw honey.

Lack of technology: India is lacking the technology to detect the adulteration of high levels, such as in the present case of adulteration in Honey, Indian tests could not be able to detect the adulteration in the samples provided by the big brands.

Lesser Punishment: Punishment for adulteration, which may cause grievous injury to the human system and cause the disease like cancer, is not stringent.

Increasing food demand: With the growth of the population together with their purchasing power, demand for food products is also increasing at a fast pace. To meet this increasing demand, adulteration becomes a common phenomenon.

Lack of manpower: FSSAI has cited a shortage of food safety officers and laboratories as reasons for increasing the production of unsafe food products.

Way forward

Public awareness

  • The most important component for ensuring food safety is the people themselves. If people are aware of the on the spot quality assessment techniques of the products they might be able to avoid low-quality or harmful products.
  • Thus, awareness must be spread on a wider scale among people for ensuring food safety through various social media platforms.
  • One of the most potential post-purchase ways to check adulteration is by performing simple tests at homes. Consumers should also be aware of their rights and report the seller who has sold them adulterated food.
  • People need to be very cautious when they buy products from stores and malls. They should check for standards like ISI standard mark, Agmark for quality products, FSSAI standard mark, date of packing and date of expiry, etc.

Increasing punishment 

  • One way of doing this is by hiking the penalty, including making it analogous to attempt to murder in some extreme cases of adulteration.

Testing

  • Authentic testing of food and adulterant detection of various food products is required for value assessment.
  • The government can set up more testing laboratories with acceptable charging fees, where the purity of food can be analyzed by sending a sample of food by the public.

FSSAI proposal

The government should consider the following amendments proposed by FSSAI to FSS act, 2006:

  • In extreme cases like deaths due to adulteration, Punishment for a term which shall not be less than 7 years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and also fine which shall not be less than Rs. 10 lakh.
  • Increasing the punishment for obstructing, impersonating, intimidating, and threatening, and assaulting a food safety officer to the imprisonment of not less than 6 months and up to two years, besides a penalty of up to Rs 5 lakh.

Conclusion

Food Adulteration is a grievous crime as it has the potential to cause a long term injury to the health of a person which not only hurt people physically but also economically and socially, it is the duty of the government to protect its citizens from the hidden enemies of the society, playing with the lives of people just for increasing their share of wealth in society. Thus, the provision of stringent punishment must be enacted for them.

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