Fish ban over, Bihar’s team in Andhra finds nothing ‘fishy’ in samples

fish-marketFish will be available in open markets of Patna from Thursday with the government deciding not to extend its 15-day ban on trade, transport and storage of fish that ended Wednesday.

The state team, which would return from Andhra Pradesh on Thursday after conducting the quality check, has also found nothing “fishy” in the fish trade there.

Seven of the 10 fish samples from Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar, collected from different areas of Patna last October, had recently tested positive for formalin, a carcinogenic chemical, and showed a high content of heavy metals like lead, cadmium and mercury, at the Central Food Laboratory in Kolkata.

This prompted the food safety wing of the health department to ban fish trade for 15 days, beginning January 14, in Patna. The department had on January 17 eased the ban, lifting the curb on the sale of live fish.

“We visited many locations, including fish rearing sites, packaging units and transportation hubs to randomly test samples using formalin testing kit. However, all tests were found to be negative,” said N Vijaya Lakshmi, secretary of the animal and fisheries resources department, over the phone from Andhra Pradesh.

She, however, said it was an eye-opener for Andhra officials when they were told their fish contained heavy metals.

“We showed them laboratory reports and they were surprised to find the presence of heavy metals in fish samples. We told them to check fish feed, tanneries, sanitisers and even test water quality in ponds as well as a pantheon, which grow in them. They took our suggestions very seriously and assured us to do it,” Vijaya Lakshmi said.

Though the Andhra Pradesh government was certifying that their fish were of “good quality”, free from additives of formalin or ammonia, many certificates did not bear the signature of food safety official.

The fisheries development officer, assistant director of fisheries department, a food inspector and veterinary assistant was required to sign any certificate of quality, issued by the Andhra government. However, many certificates were issued without the signature of the food inspector.

“We have requested the Andhra officials to ensure that all fish consignments dispatched to Bihar were duly countersigned by food safety officials. On our part, we will depute our teams at unloading points to check foul play during transit,” said Vijaya Lakshmi.

“We have also agreed to continue with random checking of fish samples and at the same time sensitise traders and consumers alike, both in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar,” she said.

The team from Bihar also met Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, who had requested his Bihar counterpart on January 21 to depute a technical team for the quality check after surprise raids by Andhra officials could not find formalin in any fish product.

Efforts to contact principal secretary (health) Sanjay Kumar, who is also the commissioner of food safety, Bihar, proved futile. He did respond to phone calls or text messages.

Meanwhile, the Bihar State Fish Traders Association withdrew its strike following the government’s decision to lift curbs on fish trade. Its president Anuj Kumar claimed fish traders across the state were on strike as a mark of protest to ban fish trade in Patna. He thanked chief minister Nitish Kumar for the decision to lift the ban.

Fish business

Bihar’s average daily wholesale business of fish, imported from Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, is ₹4 crore, of which Patna accounts for ₹1 crore

An average daily 35 truckloads of fish, weighing 350 tonnes (approx), is imported to Bihar from Andhra Pradesh of which around 80-90 tonnes is consumed in Patna.

The chronology

The 15-day ban on fish trade in Patna came kicked in on Jan 14

Ban was imposed after samples tested positive for formalin, a carcinogenic chemical

On Jan 17, the ban was eased, curbs on sale of live fish lifted

On Jan 21, Andhra CM urged his Bihar counterpart to send a team for quality check of fish in his state

Bihar team found no formalin in samples in Andhra.

Source: Hindustan Times