While state governments of Goa, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur have already banned the import of fish from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Meghalaya and Odisha have stepped up scrutiny.
There is something fishy about the fish from Andhra Pradesh that has raised concerns in states like Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur. With people set to be deprived of lip-smacking delicacies, the scare of fish in their local markets containing formalin has prevailed in the aforementioned states. While state governments of Goa, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur have already banned the import of fish from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Meghalaya and Odisha have stepped up scrutiny.
The situation assumes significance as the sector contributes to 1.1% of the GDP and 5.15% of the agricultural GDP, according to the National Fisheries Development Board data. India, which constitutes about 6.3% of the global fish production, has annual export earnings of Rs 33,441.61 crore. Around 1.4 crore people are employed in this sector.
It all began started in Kerala on June 24-25 when the Kerala Food Safety and Fisheries Departments seized 9,600 kg of contaminated fish in Kollam district. Another 6,000 kg of contaminated fish was seized in Palakkad district.
In Goa, officials from the state Food and Drug Administration raided markets in Goa and collected samples from trucks carrying fish from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka on July 13. Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardesai tweeted that afternoon: “Any knee-jerk action aimed at creating panic is uncalled for…. Thankfully FDA has now confirmed that reports indicate fish showing no trace of formalin and hence #safe…”.
While Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on Wednesday announced a 15-day ban on the entry of fish from other states, Tamil Nadu officials are undertaking raids on a daily basis for the last weeks in areas like Kanyakumari.
A senior official of the Fisheries Department of Odisha has assured that no trace of formalin chemical was found in freshwater fishes sold in Odisha. Director Fisheries in the Fisheries and Animal Resources Development Department, P K Senapati said that freshwater fishes do not have formalin content. The director said his statement is based on the sample test reports collected from different fish markets across the state.
However, the department had earlier found traces of formalin chemical in a Pomfret fish sold at the Unit-IV fish market in the state capital. Meanwhile, samples of various fish species were collected from different places like Cuttack, Berhampur, Bhubaneswar and Balasore since July 13 and sent to a laboratory for examination. The official said the inspection drive will continue to ensure that no fish containing formalin comes to the Odisha market.
Assam has banned fishes from Andhra till Saturday. “We will keep testing samples and if they turn out positive, we will again ban. In Assam, most people consume fish every day. We don’t have adequate production so there is no question of a permanent ban,” Assam Minister of State for Health Pijush Hazarika was quoted as saying by NDTV.
In Nagaland, a drive was conducted drive and found formalin on June 22. It has banned the import of fish from Andhra Pradesh. In Mizoram, samples are undergoing the test at Regional Institute of Para-Medical and Nursing Sciences (RIPANS), according to reports.
In Shillong, the Meghalaya government has been keeping strict vigil but chose not to ban the import immediately. The decision in this regard will be taken in its review meeting.
Usage of formalin and side-effects
A Kerala FDA official said fish trucks from Andhra Pradesh often contain a formalin-laced cargo. “They have to have ice and fish in the ratio of 1:1, but even then, the distance is long, and fish tends to spoil. Formalin helps delay decomposition,” the official said.
Experts say that formalin is a preservative mostly used in forensic museums and morgues where autopsies are conducted. “Formalin should never be consumed by humans”. According to Dr Shailesh Mohite, forensic chief of Mumbai’s Nair Hospital, even in laboratories, “We use only a 10% solution, so with 900 ml of water, we use 100 ml of the chemical”. According to experts, formalin consumption can cause cancer, coughing, wheezing, nausea, skin irritation, watery eyes, burning sensations of the eyes, nose, and throat.