Panaji, Jul 12: Fish traders in Goa today stopped operations in protest after wholesale markets in the state were raided by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ascertain the levels of formalin in fish, according to a PTI report.
News agency PTI reported that the protest resulted in a scarcity of fish across the coastal state, according to officials.
Officials said that FDA teams first raided and sealed operations at the Margao wholesale fish market and seized 17 trucks carrying fish.
The FDA action at Margao market was after a preliminary “on the spot” analysis of fish showed the presence of formalin or formaldehyde, said officials.
The move, however, upset fish vendors and the big traders who asked their counterparts in other fish markets, including those at Mapusa and Panaji, to stop operations as a mark of protest.
The vendors continued with the shutdown despite a meeting with Goa Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardesai who also discussed the matter with Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar.
Videos and images of the FDA action which took place in the wee hours of the morning were splashed all over social media, by Goans who seemed to be pleased with the action of the FDA. But the bulk importers and fish traders who import hundreds of tonnes of fish daily from Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal and other parts of India, were definitely not amused. Goa has a huge hotel industry, fueled by tourists from all over India which pays a premium for good fish.
So intense was the backlash that a prominent leader from the Congress posted on Facebook – the issue is gone for settlement... referring to the matter where the fish traders approached the Chief Minister to get their consignments released from the FDA and get a clean chit from the authority. A few hours later, the FDA did an about turn.
Some netizens resorted to abusive language on social media against a politician from South Goa, whom they claimed was hand-in-glove with the fish mafia in Goa and was a ‘partner’ in the import of spurious and adulterated fish, which fetched lakhs in profits daily. IndiaScoops.com has refrained from publishing these posts, or the names of such fish traders and politicians, but Goans took to Facebook to vent their ire against the fish mafia and politicians who were supporting them.
The situation eased, said officials, after the FDA certified that the formalin content in the fish was within permissible limits and that it was safe for consumption, reports PTI.
While today’s business, generally conducted in the early hours of the morning, got stalled due to the protest, fish markets are expected to remain open tomorrow, they added.
FDA Director Jyoti Sardesai said two of its teams had fanned out, since 4am today, in the fish markets in North and South Goa districts.
“The South Goa team visited the wholesale fish market at Margao and collected samples of fish, mainly from the vehicles arriving from states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka,” she said.
“These samples showed the presence of formaldehyde. Hence, as a precautionary move, we instructed fish vendors to not distribute it till detailed laboratory reports were available,” she informed.
The fish was then tested at the FDA laboratory in Bambolim near Panaji. The official said.
“The results showed that the the presence of formalin was within permissible limits. The fish is safe for consumption,” she added.
The FDA Director added that fish tested from Panaji market in North Goa also showed the same results and were then declared fit for consumption.
However, hundreds of Goans took to Facebook and other social media platforms claiming that the FDA was pressurized and managed by the powerful fish lobby and a Minister from South Goa who has a stake in the business. IndiaScoops.com accessed hundreds of posts and comments on Facebook, which clearly showed the dissatisfaction of Goans with the final results of the FDA.
A Congress MLA from South Goa who did not wish to be named, speaking to IndiaScoops.comsaid:
the initial field tests showed the presence of formalin or formaldehyde. Later on the FDA claims it was within permissible levels. Why are the traders using formalin in the first place? Why don’t they tell consumers that the fish is “treated” and preservatives are used. We all presume that we are buying ‘fresh’ fish. But now it is clear that the fish we are buying is 2-3 days, sometimes even 5 days old and is ‘treated’ by the use of chemicals to preserve it and make it look fresh.
Citizens claim that formalin has a distinct smell and cannot be removed by merely washing it once. They have demanded an inquiry into the entire episode.
According to an editorial in the NavHind Times, Goans could be consuming fish from Tamil Nadu that contains formalin, which has carcinogenic effects on the body?
In the past Goans were used to fish shortage during monsoons and would consume dried fish and small fish that were caught in shallow waters. The situation has changed over the years with wholesalers importing fish from other states, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and West Bengal.
Different species of fish lifted from various fish markets in Tamil Nadu were tested by scientists of the Tamil Nadu Dr J Jayalalithaa Fisheries University. As many as 11 of the 30 samples of fish were found to have been preserved using formalin, claims the NT report.
Formalin causes irritation in the eyes, throat, skin and stomach. Scientists have found that continued use of fish preserved by using formalin can cause harm to the kidney and liver and even cause cancer.
Though it has not yet been established that fish being sold in the state is preserved for its freshness by using formalin, the food and drugs administration (FDA) should act immediately to properly test the quality of the fish brought by wholesalers from southern states.
For Goans fish is a staple diet. There are a good number of Goans who would pay any amount to get their daily need of fish. They hardly bother where the fish is coming from and whether the fish has been preserved using dangerous chemicals. Some people prefer to use their limited knowledge to verify the freshness of the fish either with touch, smell and redness of the gills. With formalin being used to preserve fish most people could be fooled into believing that the fish they are buying from vendors is fresh says the NT report.
There have been a number of cases in the state in which fish vendors have tried to cheat their consumers by applying kumkum to the gills says NavHind Times. The state FDA officials have given an assurance to launch a special drive to check the quality of fish imported by Goan wholesalers from Tamil Nadu and other states for use of chemical preservatives. The FDA checks of fish samples from southern states should not be random or one-time. They should be carried out regularly as fish is a staple to Goans and the risks to their health must be warded off by the intervention of FDA.
According to FDA officials, they have carried out 14 tests of fish samples over the last two and half years and not found even a single case of chemicals being used to preserve fish. The only anomaly the FDA has found was about use of red powder to colour the gills and make fish appear fresh, claims NT. The absence of any evidence of preservatives in test results of FDA is contradicted by the fish retailers who are candid enough to admit that the fish they were buying and selling was preserved using chemicals, even in cold storage hubs in Goa. The traders say fish is stored in large quantities before monsoon using ice and preservatives for months to be sold during the lean months of rains.
This is done by using industrial and commercial preservatives, very often the application of which far exceed the permissible levels as there is no check or monitoring mechanism and the workers just apply the preservatives as per their whims and fancy.
The preservation methods are aimed to protect fish from the putrefying bacteria and enzymes that cause it to rot. But there is no monitoring of the application of preservatives by unskilled workers who do it on their own accord. Businesses find these methods cumbersome and difficult to follow in highly competitive commercial world. Interestingly, a senior official of the state fisheries department has gone on record to state that the department was not concerned about the import of fish into Goa and that the department was unaware of any particular government agency which should keep a tab on the quantity and quality of imported fish.
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