Pesticide-treated dried fish exposes consumers to serious health risks in Bangladesh

Banned DDT still used to keep flies at bay

Emran Hossain | Published: 00:24, Sep 14,2018 | Updated: 23:56, Sep 14,2018


Women and children process dried fish in Cox’s Bazar. — Sony Ramany

Nearly a half of dried fish samples tested at the laboratory of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute in the first six months of this year were found to have been treated with pesticides.
Residues of six pesticides considered to be highly dangerous for humans and the environment were found in the dried fish samples tested.
The World Health Organization, Pesticide Action Network, better known as PAN and other scientific institutions identified the six pesticides as highly dangerous for human health as well as the environment.
Heal experts said that consumption of dried fish, called shutki machh in Bangla, a popular culinary delight, became highly risky due to the authorities’ failure to enforce the ban on the using pesticides to treat dried fish.
‘It seems the use of pesticide while drying fish is increasing,’ said BARI’s senior scientific officer Mohammad Dalower Hossain Prodhan.
Every year BARI carries out routine test of food samples collected from all over the country.
Out of 92 samples of nine types of dried fish from eight districts tested from January to June this year, 42 were contaminated with residues of DDT, Dimethoate, Fenitrothion, Chlorpyrifos, Acephate and Diazinon.
Some of the samples were contaminated with residues of multiple pesticides beyond the maximum limits.
Highest contamination was found in samples of loitta, a popular sea fish.
About 92 per cent of the dried loitta samples was contaminated with residues of the pesticides Dimethoate, Fenitrothion and Chlorpyrifos.
Almost 50per cent of the samples was contaminated with residues beyond the maximum residue limits.
About half of the samples of chepa, kanchki, mola, paysha and shidol shutkis were also contaminated with pesticides.
Residue of the highly dangerous DDT was detected in samples of dried kanchki, chanda and the suri fish.
‘Last year we found pesticides in fewer samples and at lesser levels,’ Dalower Hossain told New Age.
Known as persistent organic pollutants, DDT is a globally banned pesticide for its toxic effects on human health.
DDT was banned internationally after studies revealed that exposure to it causes breast, liver, testicular and pancreatic cancer.
‘DDT gets absorbed in fat cells and gradually develops kidney and heart malfunctioning,’ said Dalower.
Dalower said, DDT stays in the nature undiluted for decades and after eventual breaking becomes even more harmful metabolites.
Bangladesh Agricultural University fisheries technology professor Md Kamal told New Age that that Bangladesh lost its dried fish export market because of widespread pesticides application.
In fiscal 2006-7 Bangladesh exported 518 tonnes of dried fish, down from 988 tonnes in 1996-97, according to Fisheries Department.
Kamal said that processors apply pesticides while drying fish to keep flies at bay as they could cause considerable loss feasting on fish flesh.
Kamal said that it would be safe and wiser to treat fish with salt to keep flies at bay.
It would be enough to treat fish with salt weighing one fifth of the fish weight to get the desired results.
Fishing and post harvest professor at the Chittagong Veterinary and Animal Sciences University Mohammed Nurul Absar Khan told New Age that pesticides could also be applied at retail level for increasing the shelf life of dried fish.
He said that businessmen do not dry fish properly as they prefer to keep high moisture content to increase weights for extra profits.
Application of multiple pesticides indicates that flies were getting resistant to pesticides, he said.
BARI’s findings did not expose the enormity of the problem as it has the capacity to detect only two groups of pesticides, organochlorine and organophosphate but at least four pesticides groups are sold in Bangladesh.
Cox’s Bazaar based dried fish businessman Abdur Rahman said that lack of awareness about alternative technologies made businessmen increasingly dependent on chemicals in drying fish.
He said he uses electric drying machine at his fish processing plants in Barisal and the Sonadia Island.
‘It raises production cost but at the end of the day my products are safe for human consumption,’ said Abdur Rahman.
He called for strict enforcement of law to save the dried fishindustry.
Fisheries Department’s principal scientific officer Provati Deb however narrated a different story saying all the dried fish were safe to eat.

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