Feni, fish and formalin: Morgue preservative in seafood provokes outrage, acrid humour
Panaji, July 15 (IANS) Over the last few days, the word formalin or formaldehyde, a powerful carcinogenic disinfectant used to preserve dead bodies in mortuaries, is on the lips of most fish-loving Goans, after the state Food and Drugs Administration cracked down on consignments of fish from other states laced with the chemical.
Surprisingly, soon after the raid and a subsequent tweet (since unavailable) by Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardesai, the FDA flip-flopped, saying only permissible quantities of formalin was found in the seized fish consignment.
The "fishy" flip-flop and Sardesai's tweet subtly backing the fish importer, whose seafood consignments largely come in from Karnataka, Odisha, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, has triggered not just outrage among Goans, but has also unleashed a fresh stream of humour on social media.
Some advise the unthinkable -- as far as Goans are concerned: Give up fish until the formalin conundrum is put to rest.
"To stop chemicals in fish, we can only take action. Rather than blaming politicians for no action, let us take action and set an example. Can we quit fish for 10 days," asked Margarida Tavora, who runs the popular Nostalgia restaurant in the South Goan village of Raia, known for its local fish and meat preparations.
A day after the raid, fish markets wore a deserted look on Saturday as patrons ditched their "fish fix" for the day in view of the scare.
Availability of cheap fish had been the poll plank of several political parties like the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and the Goa Forward ahead of the last state assembly polls.
Fish is popularly consumed in the state and is sought after in the tourism belt, which is frequented by more than six million tourists every year.
Pollution, the overkill of fish for export and to cater to the hospitality industry in the tourism-oriented state, as well as rising sea temperatures, have already triggered a fish famine of sorts in the waters off Goa, driving prices of locally consumed staple fish through the roof.
And the fresh suspicion of imported fish laced with the carcinogenic substance isn't helping either now, as questions are being asked of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who is himself recovering from pancreatic cancer.
"Will the IIT-educated CM tell us if cancer causing formalin (is) ok at permissible levels," Margao-based lawyer Cleofato Countinho asked.
For now, the FDA, in its statement, has tried to clarify on behalf of the government that "fish naturally contains a certain amount of formalin" and the seized fish had permissible quantity of the chemical. But its answers appear to raise more questions, thanks to its flip-flop.
"Whatever the spin, formaldehyde is a proven carcinogen. No question... you need not be a rocket scientist to udnerstand why cancer cases are galloping in our country, sloshed as we are with chemicals," said city-based medical professional Dr. Oscar Rebello.
So, even as Health Minister Vishwajit Rane claimed that the Chief Minister's Office is monitoring the fallout of the formalin fiasco, the witty ones on social media already have their knives out, as one joke suggests:
A phone call to police HQ:
Man: Hello Sir, I want to do a crime. What's the permissible limitIJ
Director General of Police: This is not FDA
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at email@example.com)
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