Fish from other states started coming to Goa’s wholesale and retail markets today, with the government swearing to people they would not let in any truck without a proper check for any toxic substance. Teams of Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) would be posted at the Patradevi and Polem checkposts to examine samples of fish from every truck. The FDA has never checked every fish truck entering Goa; so this will be an extraordinary exercise obviously to combat the deep-seated fear in the minds of consumers about the toxicity in fish owing to the dubious findings about the wholesale fish samples tested at Margao three weeks ago. Let us hope the FDA does an honest job this time. Had the FDA done an honest job three weeks ago, people’s faith in them would not have been eroded. After all, it was ‘spot tests’ that had found formalin in the fish samples three weeks ago at Margao. We were told then that ‘spot tests’ never give accurate results: precision comes in the tests in the lab. Now the same FDA is asking us to rely upon their ‘spot tests’ at the Patradevi and Polem checkposts. Why are tests in the FDA lab at Panaji not necessary now to arrive at a precise conclusion?
The FDA had earlier said they do not have adequate manpower to keep a check on the quality of all food, including fish, and all drugs all the time. How did the same FDA find adequate number of officers to conduct examinations of fish samples from every truck passing into Goa at the two checkposts? The state government has learnt a bitter lesson from the boycott of fish by Goans since the report about formalin in fish first came. They should appoint more officers to fully assure people they are doing a good policing as far as the quality of food is concerned. As is obvious, the checks are not going to last forever. The FDA teams would be there for a few days and go back to their routine work once the government has succeeded in bringing back Goans to fish markets. What is the guarantee that the fish traders would not start bringing in formalin-preserved fish after the checks are lifted? After all, they exposed their unscrupulousness in bringing formalin-preserved fish!
It has been revealed by trade insiders that formalin-laced fish had been imported in Goa for the past two years, if not more, especially during the period when Goa was under fishing ban. The market for fish has been expanding enormously in Goa owing to the demand from restaurants catering to tourists and local population. To meet the burgeoning demand, fish traders started importing fish from far-off states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry, Gujarat and Odisha, where the fishing business industry is also better organised. Fish traders in those states had discovered magic in formalin as it kept the fish looking taut and fresh even if it had to travel hundreds of kilometres to Goa. The fish traders of Goa who were ordering the fish trucks knew very well about the trick the fish traders in those states were playing upon Goan consumers, but they kept criminally quiet and let Goans consume toxic fish for two years or more. They were an accomplice to the fish ‘exporters.’ Do we have any proof of sorrow, remorse or confession of the fish importers who fed Goan consumers toxic fish in complicity with fish exporters from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry, Gujarat and Odisha?
In the absence of any self-reproach, fish importers should be the last persons to be trusted for the quality of the fish. It is not possible for FDA to check every consignment. It is not possible for FDA to check every crate in every consignment. Exporters may place a few crates on the top whose fish are without formalin and crates with formalin-laced fish underneath them. The importers may very well know it and have the last laugh when the FDA clears the truck after checking the top crates.
The government has to make fish importers accountable. The government has asked them to obtain a licence from the FDA. Under the Food Safety and Standards Act any person who imports, sells, stores or distributes any article of food “without licence” is punishable with six months imprisonment and Rs 5 lakh fine. In addition, if he trades in “unsafe” food, he can be fined from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 10 lakh. There is also provision for compensation to a consumer if he or she suffers “injury” (damages to the body) caused by unsafe food. The government must enforce these provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act to compel fish importers to be ethical.