Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) has declared that all chilled fish sold in Bhutan are free of formalin.

Formalin is a colourless solution of chemical substance usually used in the industry of textiles, plastics, papers, pain and construction. It is also used as a preservative for biological specimens including the human corpse. It is derived from formaldehyde gas dissolved in water.

The authority issued a notification after the Indian media recently reported that fish found to be laced with formalin were seized in some Indian states like Kerala, Assam, Goa, Odisha, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu, Meghalaya, and Nagaland.

The news raised concern among the consumers in the country and questioned about the safety of fresh fish sold in Bhutan.

The authority, on its Facebook page yesterday, posted that all chilled fish imported into the country were tested using formalin detection test kit at all border entry points and only those chilled fish which were tested negative were allowed in the country.

The authority urged the people to report any suspicion of formalin in fish to the nearest BAFRA office or call toll free number 155.

BAFRA’s notification in Kuensel issue on July 21, stated that the authority as a regulatory body for ensuring food safety in the country, had taken proactive action in testing all fresh fish consignment entering Bhutan at border entry points since July 3.

According to Indian media, there are several risks associated with ingesting formalin. Having even 30 millilitre of a solution, which contains as little as 37 percent formalin, can kill a fully-grown adult.

“Once ingested, formalin releases toxins into the body, and the sustained ingestion of formalin can eventually lead to cancer,” it was reported. “Breathing even the smallest amount of formaldehyde gas can lead to pneumonia and bronchitis.”

BAFRA’s notification states that all fresh fish imported into Bhutan tested negative to formalin adulteration till July 18. However, two consignments of fish species Pankaj and Rui consistently tested positive to formalin presence when BAFRA conducted the test at Phuentsholing on July 19.

The consignments are seized and disposed of as per the Livestock Rules and Regulation 2017.

“From August 1, all imports of fresh fish into Bhutan will be done from Export Inspection Council, India certified supply sources thereby ensuring the products free of pesticides, heavy metal and formalin…” the notification states.

BAFRA said the authority will continue to conduct formalin test for all fresh fish consignment entering the country and make sure it is free from formalin adulteration and are safe for human consumption.

Dechen Tshomo