ARE Goans consuming fish from Tamil Nadu that contains formalin, which has carcinogenic effects on the body? In the past Goans were used to fish shortage during monsoons and would consume dried fish and small fish that were caught in shallow waters. The situation has changed over the years with wholesalers importing fish from other states, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and West Bengal. Different species of fish lifted from various fish markets in Tamil Nadu were tested by scientists of the Tamil Nadu Dr J Jayalalithaa Fisheries University. As many as 11 of the 30 samples of fish were found to have been preserved using formalin. Formalin causes irritation in the eyes, throat, skin and stomach. Scientists have found that continued use of fish preserved by using formalin can cause harm to the kidney and liver and even cause cancer. Though it has not yet been established that fish being sold in the state is preserved for its freshness by using formalin, the food and drugs administration (FDA) should act immediately to properly test the quality of the fish brought by wholesalers from southern states.
For Goans fish is a staple diet. There are a good number of Goans who would pay any amount to get their daily need of fish. They hardly bother where the fish is coming from and whether the fish has been preserved using dangerous chemicals. Some people prefer to use their limited knowledge to verify the freshness of the fish either with touch, smell and redness of the gills. With formalin being used to preserve fish most people could be fooled into believing that the fish they are buying from vendors is fresh. There has been a number of cases in the state in which fish vendors have tried to cheat their consumers by applying kumkum to the gills. The state FDA officials have given an assurance to launch a special drive to check the quality of fish imported by Goan wholesalers from Tamil Nadu and other states for use of chemical preservatives. The FDA checks of fish samples from southern states should not be random or one-time. They should be carried out regularly as fish is a staple to Goans and the risks to their health must be warded off by the intervention of FDA.
The FDA has so far found no evidence of fish sold in Goan markets to have been preserved by using formalin. According to FDA officials, they have carried out 14 tests of fish samples over the last two and half years and not found even a single case of chemicals being used to preserve fish. The only anomaly the FDA has found was about use of red powder to colour the gills and make fish appear fresh. The absence of any evidence of preservatives in test results of FDA is contradicted by the fish retailers who are candid enough to admit that the fish they were buying and selling was preserved using chemicals, even in storages in Goa. The traders say fish is stored in large quantities before monsoon using ice and preservatives for months to be sold during the lean months of rains.
Fish is a highly perishable item and cannot be traded for consumption unless it is preserved for days. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the FDAs in state allow use of safe preservatives or safe levels of preservatives, as without preservation perishable goods would not be fit for trade. The preservation methods are aimed to protect fish from the putrefying bacteria and enzymes that cause it to rot. Businesses find these methods cumbersome and difficult to follow in highly competitive commercial world. Interestingly, a senior official of the state fisheries department has gone on record to state that the department was not concerned about the import of fish into Goa and that the department was unaware of any particular government agency which should keep a tab on the quantity and quality of imported fish. This only reveals how apathetic the government agencies are about the health of Goan consumer. The FDA should be more vigilant. The rising number of cancer cases in the state is causing concern. As formalin has carcinogenic effects, its use as preservative for fish should never be allowed. There could be other dangerous preservatives being used by the wholesale traders in fish. The FDA should maintain constant vigilance on the score. As the detection of red powder to make the fish gills red shows, fish traders would not desist from using any means to make their fish ‘look’ fresh. The FDA must protect Goan buyers from such deception.