It was a curious case of something being fishy throughout Thursday. Fish that had been declared unsafe in the morning by the Directorate of Food and Drugs Administration, was cleared for consumption by the same body later in the day. But don’t forget this, the fish you are eating is definitely laced with chemicals, but these artificial preservatives, as per the test reports by the FDA, are within permissible limits.
In early morning raids, a FDA team swooped down at the wholesale market in Margao and picked up samples of fish imported from other States. Simultaneously there was another raid in the Panjim market. The spot test on the samples collected at Margao came positive for formaldehyde and fish vendors were prevented from distributing the fish till a lab test could confirm the presence of the chemical. The laboratory test found that the formalin that was in the fish was within permissible limits and later in the day FDA, armed with the test report, declared the fish safe for consumption.
There are, however, various unanswered questions and Herald has asked some of them in the report that has appeared on pg 2. But there are at least two other questions that the Directorate of Food and Drugs Administration has to answer: Why would there be chemicals in the fish? It has obviously been introduced into the fish after it was caught and it has been done to preserve it, so then what is the permissible limit? The fish-eating people of Goa have a right to know these answers, and FDA has to respond.
The fear that the fish in the local markets was contaminated by formalin arose due to reports coming in from some other coastal States in the past few days. Thousands of kilogrammes of fish in Kerala were found to have been laced with formalin and were sent back to Andhra Pradesh as the authorities determined them to be not edible. Due to the 61-day ban on mechanised fishing currently on in the State, Goa has been getting its fish supply from the east coast, the catch coming from Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu or Odisha. The raids in Goa were conducted on fish that had been brought from some of these States.
Given that the fish is caught at sea and preserved in the trawlers with crushed ice till it reaches the port, and then transported by road from the east coast to Goa on the west coast again preserved in crushed ice, there is no way that the fish that reaches the market can appear fresh unless it has been chemically treated. Can the fish imported into the State, especially during the ban period, be preserved by other manner, than spraying it or injecting it with formalin? That is something that the authorities will have to look into, or buyers will simply have to depend on the local traditional fishermen who sell fish freshly caught off the beaches of the State.
One raid and a clean bill to the fish is not sufficient, it in fact borders on the inefficient. Food and Drugs Administration and Fisheries Department have to keep a regular check on the fish coming into the State from across the borders. Stringent checks at the borders, surprise checks at the markets have to continue if the government wants to show that it is indeed serious about quality control in the fish. Formalin is a carcinogenic substance and it is increasingly being used to prolong the shelf life of fish and in some cases even fruit. Harmful, as it is, when consumed by humans, one cannot be nonchalant about its presence in the fish that is a staple in the Goan diet.