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A ‘Fishy’ Business

A ‘Fishy’ Business

While Goans are trying to come to terms with the unavailability of fresh fish for their daily consumption, the ‘ban’ and ‘scarcity’ factors are creating their own confusion in the minds of the locals.With contrasting reports in the press and social media every other day, the mess has raised enough stink already. 

When the CM is on record stating that the Formalin row is basically an ‘economic’ issue and that the government can take care of ‘health’ aspect related to the matter, it is amply clear that the confusion that reigns supreme over the whole issue is yet to be resolved. With sustained demands from concerned citizens growing by the day that the state government notifies fish under the Essential Commodities Act, the importance of fish as a traditional food of the Goans cannot be overlooked.

The Chief Minister’s contention about the economic aspect of the ‘preservative conundrum’ possibly stems from the fact that as fish varieties are highly perishable, traders and middlemen find ways to preserve them. The use of Formaldehyde is one such practice. But should such unethical practices that cut losses for those in fishing business pose health issues for the consumers! However, considering that the fishing sector in India accounts for more than 1% of the country’s GDP, any news of contamination has to be taken seriously.

With similar findings reported from Kerala and Chennai, the preservative muddle assumes greater significance. Scientific explanations on the harmful effects of Formalin should be enough to discontinue any further debates on allowing permissible limits of the chemical as a preservative in food items.

Moreover, when the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has banned Formaldehyde in fresh fish and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has labeled the chemical a carcinogen way back in 2004, what is the justification in feeding Goans fish laced with such poisons! Are some from the higher echelons of power in the state turning a blind eye to a clique of unscrupulous fish-merchants and vendors trying to pass-off stale catch as recent!

The need to be cautious about what we eat is assuming all the more importance considering the health hazards attributed to the contamination of food grains and food products which have led to fatal consequences. Although contamination is a growing food safety concern, the increased use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides during the agriculture process leading to the presence of toxic contaminants in food grains hardly leaves us any choice.

All chemical agents used for increasing crop yield, as ripening enhancers for fruits and as food additives are generally undesirable because of their adverse health effects. Yet all through these years, their use has not received the sort of condemnation that warrants immediate reprisal. Monosodium Glutamate for instance! As a common ingredient in Chinese culinary, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats, MSG has been used as a food additive for decades.

A flavor enhancer, Monosodium Glutamate is classified by the Food and Drug Administration as a food ingredient that is ‘generally recognized as safe’, but its use remains controversial. It was only when Nestlé’s Maggi Noodles faced heat across India a couple of years back for ‘misbranding’ that the country woke up to the dangers of consuming food items ‘laced’ with MSG. The very high quantities of Lead detected in the noodles threw up a scare as well.

Apart from triggering suspicion among the locals, it is however the clause ‘allowed within permissible levels’ stipulated by the FDA for the presence of such chemical contaminants in food items that continues to draw flak from nutritionists and medical experts alike for the ambiguity of the term by itself.

The ‘Formalin furore’ in Goa further complicates the matter with the vagueness of the phrase ‘within permissible limit’ having come to haunt Goan fish-lovers who are at loss to understand whether they should be consuming the marine food available. The very fact that the FDA officials backtracked on their earlier findings of the toxic pollutant in the fish samples tested, presumably under political pressure, to deny any ‘unusual’ findings lends an entirely new meaning to the whole exercise.

Various lobbies have been pressurizing governments ‘to see sense’ in matters that go against their interest. But when a staple diet of a region is tampered with, it calls for strict vigilance against such monstrous acts. And now reports that the ‘Formalin in fish’ conundrum which is refusing to die down has made a tumultuous entry into the hallowed precincts of the Goa Legislative Assembly threatening to throw the entire monsoon session into total disarray brings forth a new aspect of the issue – the political one.

With each passing day it is becoming increasingly evident that the term ‘Goem, Goemkar and Goemkarponn’ is merely a slogan arbitrarily raised by the state’s political leaders to flaunt their parochial credentials. The deteriorating conditions that describe a common man’s life in Goa puts paid to the tall claims of the political class that local interests form the crux of its existence.

As stepping stones to the revered portals of the state assembly, even local self-governing bodies have maintained a biased approach to the problems of the common man. In spite of the claims of progress and development having touched every phase of life in Goa, food, clothing and shelter as basic needs of every individual continues to be a very big issue for the locals.

The proliferation of high-rise buildings complimented equally by the ‘spawning’ of thickly populated slums gives an insight into the seriousness of the government in providing affordable housing to the locals. The state’s accent on industrialization may have boded well for its economy, but the resultant influx of immigrants has definitely had a telling effect on Goa’s employment scenario.

The promotion of tourism too has been at the cost of local interests with the cost of living in Goa zooming way beyond the affordable reach of locals. Simply speaking, living in Goa is a very expensive proposition! Blame it, if you may, on the government’s skewed political agendas that have allowed a minor faction in the state to prosper, leaving the majority to suffer the rigours of a grueling life.

But worse still has been the obvious insensitiveness of the elected representatives to address their ‘kitchenomics’ that had irked the locals. After the case of the ‘shrinking Pao’, the local bread, had Goans on edge quite for some time, the spiraling prices that had fish gradually disappearing from their dining tables further added to the miseries of the Xit-Codi loving people.

And now they are faced with the prospects of foregoing varieties of their favourite marine food for fear of having them laced with toxic contaminants! How would the locals take to a government that deprives them a staple that constitutes a dominant portion of their standard diet! No wonder the media is rife with crass comments against the government for its inaptness at handling the ‘food affairs’ of the locals!

(Published on 23rd July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 30)