Formalin still being widely used

“No market will ever be ‘completely formalin-free’ despite being declared as such,” said Farid Uddin while buying fish from the capital’s Kaptan Bazar – home to a thriving kitchen market that was declared “formalin-free”.Talking to UNB, the middle-aged man was quite cynical about the recent initiative taken by several markets – mostly concentrated in the capital – to put an end to the use of formalin. “They (traders) will commit misdeeds (in their businesses), no matter, whatever is done. Formalin-free market’s initiative is absolutely faked.”
The sheer lack of confidence in the abilities or intentions of traders is only matched by that in the persons entrusted with formalin detection at all the so-called “formalin-free markets” in the capital.
For those buyers, it does not matter whether they are buying from formalin-free market or not. They, however, do believe chemical-free markets to be ‘good initiatives’. And that obviously includes formalin, a chemical agent whose use is rife in the country’s kitchen markets for its ability to retain an exterior to food items belying its level of freshness, or lack thereof, for days on end.
Contacted over phone, Helal Uddin, a key initiator of the Formalin-Free Ideal Market Project, said, “No market will be free from poisonous formalin even after providing thousands of detector kits there. The government must enact a strict law like Acid Crime Prevention Act to stop use of formalin in foodstuffs.”
He also expressed disappointment over what he termed government “inaction” in formulating a stringent law to put an end to food adulteration.
Helal, also vice-president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), said formalin still continues to be widely available. Unless the issue is tackled at these points of sale of the chemical, markets declared “free from formalin” will remain an illusion.
Formalin is widely used for preservation in textile and leather industries. But its use in fish and other food items has long-lasting effects on public health, which may lead to fatal disease cancer.
Dishonest traders use formalin in fish, fruits and vegetables to make them stiff and maintain an exterior of freshness. Almost all food items-milk, drink, ice-cream are being adulterated nowadays but a new, more aware group of consumers means concerns about their adverse impact are soaring.
Apart from Kaptan Bazar Kitchen Market, Malibagh, Shantinagar, Mohakhali, Gulshan DCC North, Mohammadpur’s Town Hall, Mirpur’s Shah Ali Bazar Kitchen Market and the Superstore Swapno are the other commercial centres declared free from formalin as part of a drive by country’s apex trade body-FBCCI.
FBCCI provided each of the markets with one sophisticated formalin detector machine, and also trained people to use the machines at the markets.
The trade body plans to make 22 more kitchen markets in the capital similarly free from formalin in a few months with support from different banks and private organizations.
Describing the problems through which the markets are going, Shamim Bhuiyan, general secretary of Malibagh Market Traders Cooperative Limited, said more formalin detector machines should be provided to the markets for the move to succeed.
Bhuiyan highlighted problems faced while conducting chemical-checks for lack of enough detector machines.
Giving example of Kaptan Bazar, he said the market needs at least 25 formalin detector machines and 50 operators, considering its size in conducting anti-adulteration activities smoothly. “But it lacks both machines and operators,” said Bhuiyan.
Apart from severe scarcity of formalin detector machines, general secretary of Kaptan Bazar’s supervisory committee Abdul Mannan Moyna identified one defect of the much-touted detector machine which, he said, at times fails to detect the level of formalin at the time of conducting the test. Typically, there is an hour’s lag, which means they remain in the dark about the level, Moyna revealed.
Moyna said they have detected formalin in Indian onions, Chinese gingers, edible oil and some other things, and informed the FBCCI which is leading the campaign against the use of formalin in food-items.
“We were a little bit disappointed as the FBCCI asked us to carry out the check only on fish, fruits and vegetables,” he said.
When his attention was drawn to this, Helal Uddin said the limited use of the detector machine advised by them to market authorities is simply because not every food item can be checked with it.
While visiting the markets, UNB found some customers alleging that the traders charge them extra against the prices of all commodities.
Admitting over-pricing, a fish trader at Malibagh Kitchen Market, reputedly the country’s first ever formalin and carbide-free market, said they are forced to buy fresh fish at high rate for sale in the market, and so they want to sell them as well at an increased mark-up.
The same trader said they cannot bring more fish to the market for non-availability of chemical-free fresh ones, even at higher rates, a possible reason behind the Malibagh market failing to witness an increase in the number of customers in the period since it went “formalin-free”.
Most traders UNB spoke to in the various markets reported increased customer levels since being declared formalin-free.
The way the system is meant to work, both buyers and traders themselves can check any commodity with the detector machine in case of doubt – although in a bustling market like Bangabazar that can be a problem.
UNB spoke to a selection of traders in a number of markets to glean whether they check commodities with the formalin detector machine. Some traders answered in a tone which indicates they don’t care whether they are selling formalin-tainted commodities or not.
Replying to a query whether they go for checking in case of doubt, many buyers said they are totally unaware about the matter.
One interesting thing is that many dishonest traders are now starting to face legal action after being caught red-handed by the markets authorities with formalin-tainted
commodities. UNB

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