Making markets formalin-free

Feb 6, 2014

A raid in Dumuria Upazila's kitchen market was lead by the government officials and law enforcers to stop selling formalin-laced foods. Photo: Undp Bangladesh.

Lipi Akter, 30, a mother of two kids, has adhered to an entirely modified motto for her family over the past few years: ‘No apple a day, keeps the doctor away’. 

Akter explains, ‘I can’t give poison to my kids. I am depriving them of necessary protein, but as a mother, I would not tolerate my kids swallowing poisonous substance.’ 

Akter is one of many frustrated mothers who have changed their diet due to the illegal formalin use on vegetables and fruits in the kitchen markets. She says: ‘Besides apple or any kind of seasonal fruits, I am scared of vegetables and meat too.’ 

 ‘Most food items in kitchen markets are contaminated with formalin. From fish to tomatoes to litchi, mango, blackberry---all these were soaked with formalin and poisonous carbide,’ says the housewife from Sajiara village under Dumuria Upazila of Khulna district.

But a recent initiative taken by the Dumuria Upazila Parishad, with the support from Upazila Governance Project (UZGP), has extended some relief to the rural housewife.

‘You can’t imagine what a great help it is to us. I stopped buying all kinds of fruits from local marketers. Now, with the drive of Upazila Parishad to make the markets formalin and carbide-free, I am buying fruits almost everyday,’ she said, heaving a sigh of relief.

Over the past few years, the national and local media have been running reports about the sale of formalin-laced food items, which has become a rampant practice in all the kitchen markets across the country, thus raising concerns of the people about its impact on health.

Formaldehyde (formalin) is a toxic substance illegally used by merchants to preserve food, to make these look fresh and attractive in the market for longer periods of time, thus maximising profits. The widespread use of formalin in fruits, vegetables, fish and meat poses a great threat to public health, and it is extremely harmful for pregnant women and newborns. 

‘I stopped buying fruits and fish from the kitchen markets because of formalin. I brought some apples from the markets few months ago and those still look fresh in my refrigerator. So you can imagine the level of formalin they have used to preserve the fruits,’ says Sajjad Hossain, a customer in Koiya market under Bhandarpara Union of Dumuria Upazila.  

Taking the public health matter seriously, the Dumuria Upazila Parishad, following recommendations made by Standing Committees on Agriculture and Fisheries and Livestock, decided to buy a formalin-testing kit in January this year aimed at making the food items in Upazila markets free from harmful chemicals.

The Upazila Governance Project (UZGP), under its fiscal facility grant, has provided the financial support to purchase the BDT 1.26 lakh for the formalin-testing kit.

Immediately after purchasing the kit, the Dumuria Upazila Parishad launched a formalin detecting service in the UZP kitchen markets and a mobile Court seized and destroyed 140,000 kilograms of formalin-mixed fish from a fish-trader in Khornia Bazaar on February 6, 2014. The Court also fined the fish-trader BDT 25,000 for selling the formalin-laced fish.

From February this year, the Upazila Parishad also launched a massive awareness-generating campaign against the use of formalin through discussion, view-exchange meetings with traders, retail sellers, bazaar committees, consumers and media and other means.

‘During the first phase, we are trying to raise awareness among the sellers not to use formalin in the food items while highlighting its harmful impact on health,’ says Soroj Kumar Mishtri, Fisheries Officer, Dumuria Upazila Parishad. ‘If they understand that formalin is not only harmful for consumers but themselves as well, then there can be some hope for pure food items,’ he adds.

Sounding a stern warning to the ‘unscrupulous’ traders using formalin in the foodstuff, Md. Shamsudouzza, Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Dumurua Upazila Parishad, says, ‘Gradually we will become more strict. We will make sudden visits to the markets and no traders or vendors will be allowed to sell fish, fruits or vegetables without checking them with the machine.’

Echoing the same sentiment, Gazi Abdul Hadi, Chairman of the Dumurua Upazila Parishad, says, ‘Mixing formalin with foodstuff is a crime. We have zero-tolerance on this important health issue.’ 

‘Primarily, we are providing this service in two to three markets in the Upazila. When these markets will become totally formalin-free, the others will follow suite,’ he adds.

The UZP Chair also lauded and expressed his gratitude to the Upazila Governance Project (UZGP) for providing financial support to the scheme having a great impact on health services to the people.

This was among the nine (9) schemes the Dumuria Upazila Parishad has taken with the Upazila Fiscal Facility (UFF) grants amounting BDT 48 lakh provided by the UZGP in 2013. The schemes were focused on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and pro-poor issues including education, health, poverty alleviation and women empowerment.  

Supported by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), European Union (EU) and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the UZGP aims to strengthen institutional, managerial and technical capacities of the Upazila Parishads (UZPs) to ensure better public service delivery and thereby alleviate poverty. The five-year project is being implemented by the Local Government Division (LGD), Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives (LGRD& C).

‘We do not have to worry anymore about formalin-mixed foodstuff, especially for our children,’ says Akter, while urging the Upazila Parishad to continue its drive and campaign against formalin and provide exemplary punishment to the culprits.