It is physically impossible and also impractical to test every fish that is imported into the State. So, when the Health Minister says that if somebody expects that every fish from the container has to be checked, then it is not possible, we fully agree. Everybody understands that and nobody has asked that this be done. What has been sought to be done is that a fair sample size of fish from each truck be tested, and that the samples be collected randomly from the crates in the truck. That is definitely not too much to ask for, especially as that what is being tested is a food item that is partaken by almost every Goan.
The reason for the Health Minister’s reaction is that on the intervening night of Tuesday-Wednesday, Herald watched as the officials of the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) at the Polem checkpost asked truck drivers to get samples from the trucks for testing. The samples, just three or five from each truck at times, were taken from the crate nearest to the door and offered to the officials, so there was every possibility that these crates could possibly have fish that was not treated so that when tested for chemicals the report would naturally come negative. This does lead to doubts in the minds of the people, who have been recently jolted by the scare of formalin being used to preserve fish imported from other States. It is only after Herald intervened that the FDA officials began demanding that samples be brought from inside the truck, and not just from the crates nearest the door.
Reiterating what Herald reported on Thursday, and what is required, the report said that FDA needs more staff to get inside the truck and collect samples, that the sample size should be far greater than what is being currently tested, that CCTV surveillance is required, that trucks have to be instructed to leave a passage between the crates so FDA officials can get samples from inside the truck, that one testing strip should be used for one fish, that CIFT ammonia test strips should also be used to test for ammonia and that FDA staff should be given proper boots and gloves to enter the truck and dig the fish from the ice.
This of course is a system that should have been put in place before the borders were reopened for imports of fish. The State had a fortnight during which to plan how exactly the fish imports would be tested, even time enough for a quick training session if necessary, once imports resumed after the ban was lifted. This planning was evidently missing. Herald acknowledges that the FDA team is working hard, and appreciates it. So, let this exercise not go in vain. Keeping teams on alert through the night, but not giving them the proper instructions or the equipment to work with, defeats the purpose of the vigil kept on the borders. It should not appear as an exercise to merely pull the wool over the eyes of the people, which from the ground report by Herald this is appearing to seem.
The formalin in fish issue galvanised the people of the State like no other has in recent times. The people need to be reassured that the fish sold in the market is certifiably free of chemicals. This assurance comes as much through words as by actions. Right now, the actions are falling short in matching the statements.