The price of local fish in Assam has shot up by Rs 100 per kilo in the last five days after the July 11 ban on fish imports from other states, especially Andhra Pradesh. Assam's annual fish intake is 10,000 metric tonnes, and about 90 per cent is imported from Andhra Pradesh.
However, a shipment of fish which tested positive for formalin on July 10, put the brakes on its imports.
Formaline is used to preserve cadavers. It is a carcinogen.
The ban on Andhra's fish is till Saturday, but the government hasn't ruled out an extension.
"We will keep testing samples and if they turn out positive, we will again ban. In Assam, most people consume fish every day. We don't have adequate production so there is no question of a permanent ban," said Pijush Hazarika, Assam Minister of State for Health.
Nagaland, too, has banned import and sale of fish from the southern state after samples tested positive for formaldehyde on June 22.
In the neighbouring Mizoram, fish samples being collected from markets and they would be tested at the laboratory of the Regional Institute of Para-Medical and Nursing Sciences (RIPANS) for the presence of cancer-inducing formalin, a Mizoram health department official said.
Even as the earlier samples tested negative, the state won't stop taking precautionary measures and regular testing of samples will continue.
In Kerala, the situation is improving. No formalin contamination was found in the last 10 days in fish imported from both Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Imports, after thorough checks, from both the states have been entering Kerala.
But officials don't want to take any chance. They have increased monitoring in the coastal state and have also introduced quick test kits produced by Kochi-based Central Institute of Fisheries and Technology.
"In June, we tested 28,000 tonnes of fish from Tamil Nadu and Hyderabad using quick test kits, and confirmed the results from various laboratories. The fish tested positive for formaline," said MG Rajamanikyam, Food Safety Commissioner.
Due to lack of space for disposal in Kerala, the fish were sent back to the state of origin with an instruction to avoid their sale.
But officials of Andhra's fisheries department sent to Assam say they have tested nine samples at the entry point in Guwahati in the presence of officials from both states and not even one tested positive for formalin. That report has been sent to the Assam government.
For Andhra, the bigger challenge now is to convince consumers about the safety of the fish from Andhra.
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