FISHY BUSINESS

NEW U-TURN: Multiple raids on wholesale fish markets in Goa stoked controversy after a spot inspection by Food Drug Administration staff revealed a carcinogenic preservative formaldehyde’s presence in fish, but after a minister’s tweet giving a clean chit to the wholesalers, on Thursday, in an u turn worthy of the current BJP government, claimed that the chemical’s levels were within permissible limits. The Congress has now accused Mr Sardesai of playing with the lives of people of Goa for whom fish is a part of a staple diet and coercing the FDA officials into releasing a manipulated test report

BY VIKAS KAHOL

With ‘formalin fish’ hitting the news in Goa, we took a look at what’s behind this fishy business only to find that Goans are only the latest victims coming to light. Similar crooks have been caught in various other parts of the country like Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, and even far-away Assam

Fish lovers beware! Unscrupulous fish wholesalers are using formalin, a toxic and carcinogenic chemical commonly used to preserve dead bodies in mortuaries, to prevent fish from deteriorating during transportation.
This shocking practice came to light in Delhi after fisheries department authorities in neighbouring Punjab sounded an alert.
What is alarming is that while the Punjab authorities have reacted, authorities in Delhi, from where the fish is resold to Punjab retailers, appear unaware of the malpractice.
Dr A K Walia, Delhi’s health minister, when contacted, said, “In the past, whenever we have heard reports about adulteration in any food substance, we have carried out raids, thoroughly examined the substances and subsequently taken requisite action.” “Formalin is a poisonous substance and I am hearing about its use in fish coming to Delhi only now. We will definitely enquire about it and once it is authentically established, we will take whatever action is required under food safety laws,” he promised.
“There is no usage of formalin to preserve the fish as the authorities keep a check on quality of fishes coming in,” insisted Chaudhary Riyasat Ali, chairman of the Ghazipur Fish Market, Delhi’s largest. Every day, about 20-26 tonnes of fish arrives at this market, from places as far away as Orissa, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. This peaks to over 50 tonnes after October.
The contaminated fish was mostly of the Pangasius variety.
Pangasius is a type of Vietnamese catfish which is now farmed in a big way in Andhra Pradesh.
Locally known as ‘Basa’, it has become extremely popular in India, since it is virtually boneless and has white flesh favoured by those with a taste for freshwater fish. It is, in fact, one of the most extensively farmed fishes in Asia and is one of the 10 most popular fish varieties consumed in the US. The Basa being procured by the retailers in Punjab is suspected to have been preserved using formalin.
Trade sources said the malpractice is widespread in Andhra Pradesh, where a bulk of the fish is grown, as well as in the Delhi wholesale market, which feeds many towns in Punjab.
The fisheries department authorities in Punjab have sounded an alert that wholesalers were allegedly treating the fish with formalin – a chemical used for long-term preservation of bodies for dissection by doctors and medical students.
The alert sent to municipal authorities in several cities including Ludhiana, Amritsar, Jalandhar and Bathinda has asked them to constitute teams and collect the samples of the fish for formalin contamination.
Formalin treatment increases the shelf life of the fish which takes about a week to reach Punjab from Andhra Pradesh. Trade sources said formalin is available over the counter and is cheap, hence it is often used to illegally preserve perishable food items like fish and fruit.
B K Sood, director and warden, fisheries, Punjab, confirmed that the government had received complaints that the fish being procured from Andhra Pradesh had formalin contamination.
“We have issued alert to municipal health authorities to take note. We have advised them to form teams and check if contaminated Pangasius fish were being sold in their respective town,” Sood said.
He explained that Punjab was one of the major consumption centres for the fish. “It is a striped cat fish being cultured in Andhra Pradesh,” he said.
Sukhdeep Singh Bajwa — a progressive fish farmer in Kadian in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district — stated that a few wholesalers procuring their locally produced fish had suggested some farmers to treat fish with formalin.
“At present, the wholesalers buy live fish from local producers. Its transportation and storage involves a lot of effort. They wanted the Punjab fish farmers to follow the practice adopted by their Andhra counterparts to save money and labour,” Bajwa said.
The farmers however raised alarm.
Ranjodh Singh — president, Innovative Fish Farmers’ Club, Punjab — said fish takes up to a week to reach Delhi from Andhra Pradesh. It is auctioned the next day and kept in the local markets in Punjab for a further four to five days for sale. It is not possible to avoid decomposition of the fish without a preservative.
“Farm labour in Punjab is the major consumer of Pangasius fish. They do not complain even if they have any ill effect on health,” he said. Between September and March, Punjab consumes nearly 250 tonnes of Basa fish every day.
The fish farmers meanwhile said that Basa fish coming to Punjab also jeopardised their business in the state. “The Andhra fish is sold at `40 a kg. The locally produced Saul, Malli and Singhara found in rivers are sold at about `100 per kg. There are fish farms which cultivate American carp and grass carp varieties sold at about `300 a kg,” said Avtar Singh, a fish farmer in Barnala district.
“Preserved Basa has literally spelt doom for Punjab farmers in addition to causing health hazard for its consumers,” he added.
Andhra fish producers, however, strongly deny the practice and say they send their produce in airtight ice containers which keep fish fresh for up to 10 days. “I challenge anybody to prove that the fish is preserved with formalin. Let any official come to our places and conduct any inquiry,” said Ch. V. Ranga Raju, a leading fish exporter from Bhimavaram in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district.

Courtesy: India Today

Control Formalin or face Cancer!
By Oscar Rebello

No Goan must have been spared the sheer horror and revulsion on learning that our beloved fish is laced with formalin and then sold to us.
We Goans, of course, will love to panic, curse and abuse at this sorry state of affairs and then after letting off a little steam, get back to business as usual.
For any long term solution, however, these may be a few tips we could use after our familiar hyperventilating (if we have the patience and tenacity to address the problem).
Whatever the spin, formaldehyde is a proven carcinogen. No question…you need not be a rocket scientist to understand why Cancer cases are galloping in our country, sloshed as we are in chemicals.
Read this carefully. Formaldehyde is not just used to increase the shelf life of fish but every food stuff, vegetables and fruits included. So no, this ain’t the problem restricted to “sinful” non-vegetarian only.
The only authority who should be given absolute powers to detect and prosecute rogue traders must be the FDA and only the FDA… Vijay Sardesai may be a master of defection, not detection. So ministers, bureaucrats indeed fish traders must not interfere with due process of science. The FDA must stand up and be counted.
The familiar argument of livelihoods will come into focus sooner than later…This horror story is about OUR lives, not livelihoods.
Stake holders like hoteliers and restaurant owners must lobby to get all scientific facts on the table and permanent solutions if any… Our tourism is about death by drugs, sex, alcohol and selfies… Killing our guests with seafood is now a fantastic new kettle of fish.
There are kits which if used on fish (and veggies) after being thawed, can detect formaldehyde… purple is positive, yellow is safe when you touch the kit to the fish. Let’s use them at home.
Simple washing of foods in water that is mixed with vinegar can potentially eliminate formaldehyde (now you know the secret of Vindalho and Balchao).
And finally this is one issue that can truly unite all Goans… No Konkani, no Marathi, no Hindu, no Christian, no Muslim, no Bhandari Samaj… This is about us messing with mother nature and our staple diet… Only a truthful and honest assessment of this problem and a thoroughly scientific — and only scientific — solution to it is imperative.
Post Script: How brilliant would it be if the High Court could take suo moto cognizance of this issue, and monitor the progress of the solutions if any.
There has to be a lasting solution…Trust me either we are all FORMAL(ly)IN or Cancer will knock us FORMAL(ly) OUT!!!

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