Formalin occurs naturally in fish, claim Andhra fish traders

Formalin occurs naturally in fish, claim Andhra fish traders
Formalin injected fish being disposed off in Kohima on February 23, 2019. (File)
Staff Reporter DIMAPUR, MAR 14 (NPN) | Publish Date: 3/14/2019 11:42:30 AM IST

Even as the theory suggesting formalin inherently found in fish has been debunked by various microbiologists, fish traders from Andhra Pradesh seem to be adamant that formalin is naturally found in fish. 

For the second time on record, they have stuck to their claim of formalin occurring naturally in fish. The first time was in October last year when a team from Andhra Pradesh met the principal secretary of health & family welfare department.

At a meeting held between Nagaland government officials and Andhra Pradesh Fish Traders (APFT) representatives on March 4, APFT general secretary M Veera Satya claimed that formalin recently detected in fish in Nagaland could well be the “naturally occurring and not manually added”.

To ascertain if the claim was scientifically correct, Nagaland Post spoke to Dr Rongsenwati of Animal Health Care Centre at Duncan Basti here and was told that under normal circumstances, and unless the water was contaminated, formalin did not naturally occur in fish. He said the use of formalin was unethical and fish traders should desist from it, adding that unscrupulous traders resorted to such malpractices because preservation in ice containers or chambers could be quite expensive.

Rongsenwati stated that fish could be preserved for weeks, if stored in iceboxes and in sub-zero temperature, indicating that, given proper preservation facilities, fish could be consumed even after a week.

The claim by the team from Andhra Pradesh in October 2018 was also refuted by a chemist from State Public Health Laboratory (SPHL) based in Kohima, M James Richa, who had spoken to this reporter. 

Richa alleged that a team from Andhra Pradesh that met the principal secretary then made a “factually incorrect claim that a minimal trace of formalin is naturally found in fish.” 

The chemist, who refuted the claim, said “We have done our homework. We are working day and night. As per our knowledge, formalin cannot be present in fresh fish.”

On March 4, representatives from Nagaland once again countered the claim and questioned APFT that if there was no trace of formalin in the consignment inspected at DDSC stadium on October 17, how come its traces were found this time? They maintained that there shouldn’t be any trace of formalin in the fish imported to the State.  

Dr Sentimoa, a veterinary doctor attached with Dimapur Municipal Council, said technicians from SPHL also maintained that the theory of formalin naturally occurring in fish was just a postulation and that there was no conclusive evidence. In July last year, the Government of Goa had similarly claimed that formalin was inherently present in fish, which was rejected outright by two microbiologists – Dr Anil Chatterji and Joe D’ Souza.

A marine microbiologist who spent four decades with National Institute of Oceanography in Panaji, Chatterji asserted that formalin was not a naturally occurring compound, adding that while compounds like amino acids could be naturally presents, formalin could not be naturally present. A microbiologist and former head of Goa University’s microbiology department, D’ Souza also refuted the claim and termed it “false. He pointed out that whatever was found in fish was a compound called Aldehye which was used as a nutrient and produced energy through various metabolic processes.

What is formalin and how is it harmful

Formalin is a solution of 35 to 40 per cent of water in formaldehyde. It is highly toxic and carcinogenic that is used primarily for preservation of bodies in mortuaries or biological specimen for tests in laboratories. It is also used in textile, paper paint and construction industries.

Formalin causes tissues and cells of the body to harden and can cause damage to internal organs like liver, kidney and heart. Physical contact with formaldehyde can cause severe burn to eyes and skin. Other health hazards caused by formalin are hepatic necrosis, loss of absorption capacity in large and small intestines, damage to inner lining of the stomach, damage to pancreas and kidney, severe gastritis and diarrhoea. In the long run, formalin can cause cancer.

How to detect presence of formalin in fish

Colour of gills: A red-maroonish gill indicates freshness, blackish maroon shows start of decay, while red coloured gills show the presence of formalin.

Smell: There is an absence of smell generally associated with fish. No flies will hover around fish treated with formalin.

General appearance: The fins and tail will be shrivelled. The fish will be stiff and rubbery. In the case of dried fish, the fish will be whitish in colour and will remain stiff even after cooking.

While unethical practices by suppliers and traders remain a concern, the State government also lacks mechanism like absence of a proper laboratory in Dimapur and a proper entry point for checking presence of adulterants in livestock and other consumable commodities being imported into the State.


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