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Imphal: The Manipur government is planning to set up a "full-fledged" food testing laboratory to curb toxic chemicals in food items, including fish coming from other states and Myanmar.
The current laboratory under the state health department lacks adequate infrastructure and manpower. It can only test adulteration in grocery items, soft drinks and milk and does not have the equipment to test fish contamination.
"Our food testing laboratory is in an infant stage. There is an acute shortage of manpower. We are planning to open a state-of-the-art lab at a cost of Rs 2.5 crore this year. After that, we won't need to send samples for testing to other states," health minister L. Jayentakumar Singh told reporters on Wednesday.
There is a growing concern among the people over reports of the use of formalin, a chemical used to preserve bodies in mortuaries, and antibiotics by fish traders to prevent fish from deterioration.
Manipur is a fish-consuming state with an annual requirement of 42,000 tonnes. Local production is hardly 30,500 tonnes. The gap is filled with imports from Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Assam and from neighbouring Myanmar. Fish dishes are a must in social events and consumed in most households.
"We are very much concerned with the use of formalin and even antibiotics to prevent deterioration of fish coming from outside. Once the laboratory is opened with adequate manpower, we can check chemical adulteration in fish and other food items," the minister said.
There are reports that local fish farmers use toxic chemicals in feed.
He said the government will open another food laboratory in the border town of Moreh through which India and Myanmar conduct border trade. Moreh is also the gateway to several Southeast Asian countries.
"Food items entering Manipur from Myanmar need to be tested. Construction of the laboratory at Moreh is in progress. We are also planning to provide adequate manpower in the laboratories," Jayentakumar said.
Officials said it was difficult to ascertain the safety of packaged food items from Myanmar as the printing on the packages are in Myanmarese script, which makes it difficult to find out the manufacturing and expiry dates of the food items.
The minister said adequate allocation of funds would be provided in the 2018-19 budget to revamp the health department.