THE Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) on Thursday announced a highly questionable and anti-consumer result: the fish samples imported from other states had formalin within “permissible limits”! Formalin is a harmful preservative and cancer-causing chemical and there can be no “permissible limits” to poison. While the FDA declared the fish “safe for human consumption,” medical experts in voice said use of formalin as preservative was dangerous per se. Soon after the raids on wholesale fish market in Margao on Thursday, the FDA found formalin in the samples. It directed the wholesalers not to distribute it. However, mysteriously in “tests” at its laboratory, the FDA found that formalin was within “permissible limits” and the fish was safe for human consumption. Since the morning, fish wholesalers were pouring venom on the FDA for harassing them; they shut down markets to “starve consumers of fish.” TCP Minister Vijai Sardesai spoke a language that was music to their ears. Popular perception connected the playing down by the FDA in the evening to “instructions from political masters” and they could not be faulted.
The Goa government and the FDA are playing with the lives of the people in allowing sale of fish with formalin “within permissible limits.” How can the state FDA allow it when the central body, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) does not allow use of formalin for preservation of fish? Do the politicians have greater concern for the profits of the formalin-laced fish wholesalers than for the health of the Goan people? Even medical experts have expressed a clear opinion that formalin should not be used as preservative for fish, fruits or any other product. According to them, formalin being toxic it can kill a human being irrespective of whether it is used within or beyond the permissible limits.
Studies conducted in India and abroad have found that once applied, formalin cannot be fully removed from the preserved fish. Studies have also shown that continuous ingestion of formalin, even in low doses, in fish could be hazardous to human body. There was a correlation between formalin and leukemia. The FDA cannot do what the FSSAI does not do, and what studies have proven to be dangerous to human health. They must withdraw their findings. If that is not possible they should do checks every other day of samples in the wholesale fish market during the next week and declare their findings without fear or favour. Else, Goan people will not forgive them. They will look at every FDA finding with suspicion.
Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar must intervene to dispel the strong perception among the people that the strong lobby of fish wholesalers who import fish from other states has patrons among some ministers. The politician-wholesaler nexus must be broken in the larger interest of people’s health. On Thursday, the FDA was put under pressure by the nexus. On Friday, ministers were finding fault with junior officials who revealed to the media at Margao that their spot tests had found formalin in the fish samples. Rather than putting restrictions on fish wholesalers and punishing them for all the formalin that they must have put into the bodies of Goans all these years, the ministers are lambasting the FDA officials and the media. The media’s and people’s screams about dangers from the fish have been countered by ministers’ howls about the “unauthorized statements” of FDA officials and the “panic” created by the media.
The Chief Minister must order tests by an independent agency or a national agency of samples of fish coming from other states to Goa. It is necessary that those officials who gave conflicting reports are taken to task so as to serve as deterrent. As the FDA’s credibility has come into question, thanks to ministers misusing their might, the state government needs to find stronger officers than the types there are in the FDA today who can stand the pressures of ministers and give objective results without fear or favour.
Fish is a staple diet of Goans and they are naturally very concerned about the chemicals in the fish they are eating. The government needs to assure them. Mere claims that the fish is safe for consumption are no more going to convince them. The government must ban import of fish preserved with formalin or such dangerous preservatives. The government must act before people organize themselves to deal with the situation themselves. The government should take the cue from Assam, which has banned import of fish preserved with formalin soon after media reports. Odisha has ordered probe to detect presence of formalin in imported fish.