Ground reports say no checks of fish trucks at state borders
IT is almost a year since doubts first arose about the safety standards of the fish consignments coming to Goa from other states. But the state government has failed to keep its repeated promise to set up a strong quality insurance apparatus. The proposal to set up a ‘state of the art lab’ in Margao has been hanging fire for several months. The promise to set up checkposts at the borders at Patradevi and Pollem remains unfulfilled, though Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and Health Minister Vishwajit Rane told the media a few days ago that they are operating and checking fish consignments coming to Goa and have found them safe! The Congress party got two fish samples from the Margao market checked by a private laboratory and one of them was found containing formaldehyde. Sawant and Rane dismissed the private lab findings, though without being able to convince anyone why they were doing it. They should have shared the concern raised by the Congress as there was nothing political in the lab findings. The issue at stake was risks to Goans’ health. Nevertheless, Sawant promised that a mechanism would be set up to check fish imported from other states within two days. However, the government failed to keep its promise again. In the wake of government’s indifference to the risks to people’s health Goans have started buying more of local catch again, rather than imported fish in the markets.
Ground reports have revealed that there were no checkposts at the borders. Why was the government lying? The government has talked of several ideas to address the issue but has not been able to come up with a serious solution to win the trust of Goans. The health department’s failure to locate the file to set up the check system has given room to the Congress to allege that government was protecting fish traders. The fish traders have been operating without adhering to the safety standards in transportation and preservation of fish during the journey. They have always found ways to avoid checks and sold fish with dubious standards. The absence of border checkposts for months has been of benefit to them. But unscrupulous traders could manage to evade checks by taking other routes where there are no checks even if checkposts were set up. Even through the checkposts they can pass as FDA officials do not check every container but only one or two kept at the tailgate.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) have now fixed ad-hoc limits for naturally occurring formaldehyde in fish species. It remains to be seen how the state Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) enforces it. A study by a panel of FSSAI at the directions of the Bombay High Court at Goa has revealed that naturally occurring formalin in fresh water fish was upto 4 milligrams/kilogramme. The panel has said that naturally occurring formalin was upto 100mg/kg in the brackish water and marine fish and ad-hoc limits have been set accordingly. The new finding of 100.0 mg/kg formaldehyde for brackish and marine fish has dented FDA’s corresponding figure of 2.38 to 2.95 mg/kg. The FDA has to apply the new limits in checking fish.
The question is not only how much formalin is naturally present in fish of different types but also about detecting the added formalin to the fish sold in the markets. There is a need to set up a robust system that will truthfully check fish, be it freshwater, brackish water or marine catch, and certify that it was safe for human consumption. With past promises not fulfilled, questions have been raised over the credibility of the government in taking the issue of risks to the health of Goans from consumption of untested fish seriously. The health department in particular and the state government in general seems to have moved on, without doing anything to compel the fish traders to abide by laws and to establish a quality check system at the entry points. The health department should have at least got the FDA to do tests on the random samples of fish on a daily basis in the major markets of Margao, Panaji and Vasco. But the FDA seems to be a long holiday.