Anti-formalin drive: Should it continue?
LAST week fruit traders called a strike, organized a human chain and so on protesting destruction of chemically-treated fruits by police. Alleging that the police were destroying large quantities of their commodities based on findings of what they termed, inappropriate formalin detection kits, they demanded that the drive be stopped forthwith.
The police drive has definitely hit the fruit traders hard, which is why they have come out on the street in protest. We would urge more discretion from the police in their anti-formalin campaign so that no genuine and honest fruit trader, whose commodity is not contaminated with toxic agents, is harassed or his fruits destroyed. But then what should be our attitude towards those traders whose commodities are not free from toxic chemicals? Don't those deserve to be destroyed? Otherwise, won't the consumers of those fruits be unfairly exposed to serious health hazards? So our appeal to all those fruit traders who are critical of the ongoing anti-formalin drive: can you put your hand on your heart and assure the public that all of your commodities (fruits, or otherwise) are free from poisonous chemicals?
The question of 'inappropriate kits' used in the drive is certainly a valid point raised by fruit traders that merits serious attention from the authorities concerned. But it cannot, under any circumstances, be a sufficient reason to stop the ongoing anti-formalin drive forthwith. The anti-formalin drive authorities should be supplied with the appropriate kits. At the same time, as suggested by others, bodies comprising experts on the subject be formed to oversee the anti-formalin campaign.
The general Secretary of the Bangladesh Fresh Fruit Importers Association Md. Sirajul Islam on June 20 made a frank admission that use of a particular kind of device to detect formalin or other toxic preservatives or ripening agents in their fruits by the mobile court-led drives over the last two years has left a negative impact on consumers. They (consumers) have about stopped eating fruits, he added.
Obviously, Sirajul was expressing his frustration from a fruit trader's point of view. But had he put himself in the consumers' shoes it won't be hard on his part to understand why the public are so averse to eating fruits. As a leader of fruit traders, he should have been able to get to the root of the issue long before the drive against chemically treated fruits had began in the country. But so far we haven't heard anything from business leaders about prevailing upon their unscrupulous members to stop their dangerous practice of adding poisonous chemicals to their commodities in the name of preserving or ripening fruits, vegetables or fishes. They showed little concern about how these toxic-chemical-treated perishables like fruits, vegetables or fishes are slow-poisoning the entire nation, how formaldehyde (formalin), calcium carbide, organophosphates (pesticides), industrial dyes and so on used as preservatives, ripening or colouring agents are damaging liver, kidney, bone marrow and respiratory system of the consuming public. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1987 classified formaldehyde as a substance that may cause nasal and nasopharyngeal cancers including even leukemia, if subjects are exposed to it over a long time. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) also came to the conclusion in 1995 that formaldehyde can cause cancer to humans. Regrettably, the business community leaders have remained silent and indifferent while the dishonest traders have been indiscriminately adding this lethal poison to fruits, vegetables with impunity. Now as soon as some action has been taken against these irresponsible traders, the leaders have raised their voice in support of the 'affected' traders.
We don't deny that some excesses might have been committed in the ongoing campaign against poisonous-chemical-treated fruits. As alleged, the kits used to detect chemicals in fruits may have been inappropriate for the purpose. And as a result some untainted fruits, if there were any, might have been destroyed and their owners affected. We express our
sympathy for the affected traders. But the financial loss the honest traders so affected has suffered is nothing compared to the damage the major chunk of the toxic-chemicals-treated fruits have been inflicting on public health over the years. Will the businesses concerned be able to compensate for this irreparable damage done to public health?
Basing on the reports of tests conducted by the Institute of Food Science and Technology of the BCSIR on June 2 and June 11, the leader of the fruit importers association claimed that “ all imported and local fruits are fruits are 'formalin free'. The samples on which the BCSIR lab conducted its tests on the mentioned dates might have been formalin-free. We have no information if the BCSIR samples were selected randomly from the market and, even if those were so, one cannot still draw the conclusion that all fruits in the market are formalin-free. To make such claims, one would have to conduct tests everyday on a massive scale on random samples collected from fruit sellers at every nook and cranny in the city. And it is exactly for this reason that the drive against the unscrupulous fruit traders who mix poisonous chemicals with their fruits should continue.
The writer is Editor, Science & Life, The Daily Star.
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