Weeks after fish from Kerala and Andhra Pradesh were found laced with formalin, the food safety crisis has now hit Chennai.
In an exclusive research conducted by The Hindu, the carcinogenic substance tested positive in 11 out of 30 samples of fish.
The fish was purchased from the Chintadripet and Kasimedu fish markets on different days. According to the newspaper, scientists at the Tamil Nadu Dr J Jayalalithaa Fisheries University carried out the test on the same day.
Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar promised actions on the findings, stating, "We will not hesitate to take strict action against those indulging in such acts."
According to a report in the Times of India, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has stepped up checks at the fishing harbour and fish markets in the city.
When TNM contacted K Bharathi, President of the South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association over the study, he initially questioned the veracity of the reports but soon admitted that the malpractice cannot be completely denied.
"We don't know who did this but they probably export fish, which is why they need to keep it fresh. The varieties mentioned are all expensive and so formalin could have been applied to help them sell them on a day with better prices also. Our catch lasts a week if we carry enough ice out to sea and we sell it immediately after coming to land. Most of us are honest and if we don't manage to sell our catch, we will just dry it and store its as karuvadu (dried fish). But once this report starts making the rounds, it is going severely affect our community. For the mistake of a few, lakhs of fishermen will suffer," he says.
The fishermen further blame the government, for members of its community resorting to the use of formalin.
"The Government has not given us any storage facilities to keep fish fresh. They don't consult us on how to improve the longetivity of our catch. And now if they don't spread public awareness and tell people to remain calm, the fishing community will be ruined," he warns.The test was conducted by dropping a two-gram piece of the fish into four ml of a diluent. This was then shaken to allow any potential formalin to get into it. When the diluent was then poured into the reagent, the latter turned yellow, signalling a positive test for presence of formalin.
Formalin, a derivative of formaldehyde, is often used to preserve fish, which is an easily perishable food whose value depends on its freshness. And when fish is imported from another state, to prevent rot during transport, fish traders resort to using formalin, even though formalin consumption is harmful to human beings.
There are several risks associated with ingesting formalin – having even 30 ml of a solution, which contains as little as 37% formalin, can kill a fully grown adult. Once ingested, formalin releases toxins into the body, and the sustained ingestion of formalin can eventually lead to cancer.