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People’s Health At Risk

THE Goa government has taken Goans for granted as far as fish quality is concerned.  It was a year ago when major issues arose over fish brought from other states not being fit for human consumption, but the government has done nothing to guarantee the standards of the consignments coming daily. The state health ministry has been in the denial mode from the very beginning, which is a highly irresponsible and inhuman approach. Once again, presence of chemicals has been reported in fish consignments. Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president Girish Chodankar said to the media on Sunday that his party received complaints from the public about fish quality sold in the markets being adulterated and recently sent samples of lady fish (Muddoshi) and mackerel (Bangddo) for tests to a local laboratory. While no chemical was found in lady fish samples, those of mackerel were found to contain two parts-per million (ppm) of formaldehyde.

It is sad to note that Health Minister Vishwajit Rane has dismissed the findings of the private laboratory outright. A more responsible government would have ordered a more rigorous check of the fish being sold in the markets on hearing of a private lab’s finding. It is not important who is presenting the findings. What is important is the health and life of the Goan people. The food and drug administration (FDA) of Goa has lost credibility. Questioning the credibility of the private lab’s report is not going to restore the credibility of the government in general and the FDA in particular about the safety standards of the fish.

Goans were promised by the state government a robust system to check quality of fish brought into the state markets, but the system has remained elusive. The Health Minister had promised that the government would set up two border checkposts, one at Patradevi and the other at Pollem, to certify the quality of fish. There is no sign of the checkposts becoming operational. Nobody in the government is taking the matter seriously. The government is indifferent to the risks consumption of fish not checked for safety standards poses to the health of people. The politicians in power have provided protection to the fish traders who have been carrying on their business without adherence to the norms set by the central regulatory authorities. The FDA has proven to be an ineffective instrument, thanks to the political patronage given to the traders indulging in illegalities without any fear of being caught and punished. Probably that is the reason why the fish traders’ patrons in power are showing no interest in getting the Export Inspection Agency to set up its laboratory in Margao. Those who indulge in illegalities would not want any checks to be established. 

Fish is a staple food of Goans. The demand for fish has grown with the growth in population and rise in the number of restaurants to cater to tourists. The growing market has been exploited for high profit by fish traders who never cared for any regulations as they had the protection of politicians. Even the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) referral laboratory on fish and fish products, the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) reported presence of residues of chemicals in freshly marketed fish, inter-state fish consignments and even in ice used during transportation. Though fish traders still use chemicals to preserve fish during its long journey, the state government has not thought it fit for putting a system in place to check the fish consignments. All that the health ministry and FDA have done is undertake cosmetic exercises when the public pressure rose, with most avoiding eating fish from the state markets. Scientific studies have revealed that the amount of formalin in fish decreases overtime during storage but cannot be removed completely. Consumption of fish adulterated with formalin leads to serious health issues, such as abdominal discomfort, vomiting and renal injury. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified formaldehyde as carcinogenic to humans, with sufficient evidence of causing nasopharyngeal cancer in humans. Thanks to our health ministry, consumption of carcinogenic substances is our fate!

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