The government yesterday launched a drive to check formalin-tainted fish, fruits and vegetables entering the capital, but those contaminated with other chemicals will remain untraced.
Though praiseworthy, the move may not be enough to prevent entry of chemically contaminated produce into the city, as the kits to be used in the drive will only detect formalin, not other harmful chemicals.
Iqramul Haque, director general of Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI), told The Daily Star yesterday, “BSTI's chemical detection kits to be used in this drive can only detect the presence of formalin.”
“It will not be able even to verify the specific level of formalin,” he said.
Check posts will be set up at the city's eight entry points as part of the initiative to be implemented by Dhaka Metropolitan Police and the BSTI, DMP Commissioner Benazir Ahmed said at a press conference at the DMP media centre.
Experts say formalin is just one of many toxic substances that are added to food.
ABM Faruque, professor of pharmaceutical technology at Dhaka University, described how many toxins are infused into mangoes.
“When a mango is green, it is sprayed with chemical insecticide to save it from pests.” After that, the mango is infused with growth promoter hormones to make it grow fast, he said.
“Once it is of a considerable size, it is ripened with a hormone. After the mango is plucked off the tree, it is infused with the ripening hormone again. Before being transported, it is soaked in formalin to make it look fresh,” said Prof Faruque.
“Fruits like these have no nutritional value whatsoever.” On the contrary, if one consumes such fruits, the ripening hormones may slowly damage his liver and kidneys. “The acid secretion of the stomach increases. This can even cause cancer,” said the DU teacher.
A big problem is that farmers generally don't know that excessive use of growth hormones in fruits is harmful to human body, say experts.
Over the last few months, different consumer platforms have been staging protests in the capital over widespread use of toxic chemicals in food.
The Daily Star yesterday talked to some consumers, who seemed sceptic about the success of the government's latest step.
“So, we get poisoned with one less toxin … don't we still get poisoned all the same?” asked Jamila Mostafa, a pharmacy student at Asia Pacific University.
Sourav Saha, a resident of Old Dhaka, said he soaks apples in vinegar for at least half an hour to rid it of harmful chemicals, but can do nothing more.
“It seems pointless to buy fruits at high prices when they are poisoned. But it is difficult to say no to fruits,” said Sourav.
As part of the government move, check points will be set up at Postogola Bridge, Waizghat at Sadarghat, Abdullahpur Bridge, Dhaur Bridge in Ashulia, Babubazar Bridge, Gabtoli, Jatrabari Police Station and the intersection near Kamal Bridge at Demra.
A recent government study sponsored by FAO found that 40 percent of 82 samples of fruits, vegetables, milk and fish were poisoned with pesticides banned for high levels of toxicity. The presence of the harmful substances ranged from three to 20 times the acceptable limit.
Carrots, beans, capsicums, lettuce and pineapples were among some of the produce with high levels of toxicity.
However, the upcoming drive by the DMP and the BSTI will not be able to detect such toxins in food.
Meanwhile, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed yesterday hoped a law would be amended in the current session of parliament, keeping the provision of tougher punishment for using formalin in food.
At a discussion on April 30, Law Minister Anisul Huq suggested life imprisonment for those using formalin in food.