Ill-equipped to tackle fishy traders ?

IT’S a pity that in-spite of past incidences of food safety unit officials as well as NGO volunteers detecting, seizing and sealing food outlets for not complying with standard regulations, the government of Manipur is still depending on confirmation of result of fish samples collected for testing subsequent to detection of suspected formalin traces in imported fish. Though the announcement to prohibit sale of imported fish in the state’s markets would be welcomed by all and the public would hope that drives to check such unhealthy trade practice become a regular affair, the fact remains that no concrete steps had been initiated by the government to take stringent actions against traders or manufacturers responsible for adulteration of edibles. For instances, authorised agencies as well as student volunteers had seized packaged drinking water bottles after detecting impurities and expired processed food items, including products bearing names of established/reputed food manufacturers. If one recounts about the handful of cases of traders in Nagamapal and other commercial areas caught red-handed while sprinkling liquid chemical to ripen fruits, bananas to be specific some months back, then it could be safely concluded that food adulteration is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, there is strong suspicion that those selling food products in various forms would be sincere and socially minded for their ultimate goal is to make maximum profit. Such presumption is not without substance as farmers and traders are known to use various chemicals and additives to accelerate the maturity process and to make the edibles more appealing to the consumers.

Adding to the pitiable situation of the consumers is the report of fish laced with formalin as fish is one of the favourite dishes of Manipuris and the state imports them in huge quantities on regular basis. While neighbouring Nagaland government swung into swift action and seized four vehicle loads of fish within 48 hours of prohibiting the sale of formalin-laced fresh fish products in June, the state administration is yet to take any firm steps to check possible health issue with the exception of restricting the sale, announcing prohibition and, sadly, waiting for the officials of Food Safety and Standard Authority of India to conduct further tests for confirmation about possible traces of formalin in the fish samples picked up randomly from some sellers. In comparison with the Nagaland Food Safety Commissioner prohibiting storage, distribution and sale of fresh fish products treated with formalin or other forms of preservatives in the state with effect from June 22 for a period of three months or till corrective measures were taken, here in the state there is no specific mention about the prohibition period regardless of the fact that imported fish consumed in Nagaland and Manipur are mainly farmed and packaged in southern states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. As formalin is used to preserve dead bodies to prevent from decaying in mortuaries, widespread use of the deadly chemical in the preservation of fish, fruit and other food items is a great threat to public health. Thus, the need for setting up of a reliable and well-manned food testing laboratory in the state should be accorded top priority.

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