Bangladesh Food Safety Authority has instructed testing of all imported fish for heavy metal from now after finding hazardous levels of lead, chromium and mercury in almost all the fishes brought in from abroad.
“This is a serious threat to public health,” said the BFSA in a letter last week to the commerce ministry, the National Board of Revenue and the Department of Fisheries (DoF).
The food safety watchdog, which began its journey in February 2015, said it is urgent to take quick measures to ensure safe food to attain the United Nations-set Sustainable Development Goals.
It asked the related authorities to ensure testing of all imported fish at Atomic Energy Centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Dhaka or Fish Quality Lab at Savar to know the levels of lead, chromium, cadmium and mercury.
DoF's quality control lab in Chittagong was added to the list yesterday so that fish imported through Chittagong and Teknaf ports could be tested.
The letter, signed by BFSA Member Mahbub Kabir, said consignments would be cleared if the test results confirm that the fishes contain heavy metals within the permissible limits set by the DoF.
Following the instruction, the DoF asked its field offices, especially fisheries quarantine officers at ports, to test all the imported consignments of fish.
Contacted, Kabir said two imported fish samples have been tested at the Atomic Energy Centre in Dhaka and lead and cadmium were found that were beyond their respective permissible limits of 0.3 miligram (mg) per kilogram and 0.25mg per kilogram.
For example, 1.5mg per kg of lead was found in one sample of shad, locally known as chandana hilsha.
Kabir said action has been taken based on the test report.
“This is a temporary measure. We will observe the test results for some days. We will withdraw the embargo if we find the results clean.”
The presence of high level of heavy metal is hazardous to health.
“But these are not intentional adulteration. No one adds heavy metal to gain weight. These are contamination and may come from water or fish feed.”
Local fishes are also found contaminated with heavy metal.
“We suspect fish feed could be one of the sources of contamination,” Kabir added.
Ashraf Hossain Mashud, president of Fish Importers Association of Bangladesh, said samples of imported frozen fish were tested for formalin and other health hazardous elements at Chittagong before release.
Only chilled fishes that were imported through land ports were not tested, he said, adding that the quality of chilled fish might deteriorate while waiting for the test results to come.
“We are in favour of ensuring food safety. We are in favour of testing to ensure safety. But the process should be easier and faster so that costs do not rise and we do not face hassle,” Mashud said.
Bangladesh mainly imports carps, sea fish and hilsha from countries such as Myanmar, Oman, India and Thailand, he said.
Fish imports dropped 12 percent year-on-year to 20,725 tonnes in the first five months of fiscal 2017-18, according to data from the DoF.
The country imported 78,506 tonnes of fish worth Tk 402 crore in fiscal 2016-17.