The commerce ministry has imposed a restriction on wholesale import of formalin as the widespread misuse of this toxic chemical has posed a serious threat to public health in the country.
The restriction has come into effect from Wednesday and it will continue until further notice, said Kamal Krishna Bhattacharyya, an additional secretary to the ministry.
"Some unscrupulous people are treating food items with formalin, which is causing serious health hazards to the consumers. To stop this, we have taken such a cautious move," he mentioned.
Under the new rules, the importers will have to apply to the ministry to seek permission for importing formalin, said a circular issued by the ministry on Wednesday.
Earlier, obtaining ministry's permission was not a prerequisite.
In the applications, the importers will have to specify the quantity, country of origin, purposes and other details for importing the chemical. The ministry will verify the authenticity of the applications before allowing any import of the item.
The importers, noted the circular, will have to maintain a register of their sales, which might be checked by the ministry officials concerned.
Kamal said imposing a complete ban on the import of formalin is not possible as it is an essential item for preserving biological specimen in the laboratories of educational institutions, and some industries like textile, pharmaceutical, chemical, formica and plastic.
If necessary, the ministry will soon hold dialogues with different stakeholders for taking more bold decisions in this regard, he added.
Contacted, Mijanur Rahman Mesbah, an adviser to Bangladesh Chemical Importers and Merchants Association, said they had recommended the government restrict the import of formalin to check its widespread sale.
He assumed the restriction would have no negative impact on the business.
The chemical is now being widely used in fruits, vegetables, fishes, milk, beverages, sweetmeats, ice-creams and spices to keep those fresh, making consumers vulnerable to serious diseases like cancer.
According to experts, if people ingest formalin with food, it breaks down the blood cells, causing a lack of blood in the body. It also creates antibodies that react with other blood cells to speed up the human aging process.
In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the volume of formalin import was 205,096 kgs, while the volume was 269,333 kgs and 544,847 kgs respectively in the previous two fiscal years, said sources in the National Board of Revenue.
Alongside the government's latest move, the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) in its own initiative has recently declared three kitchen markets -- Malibagh, Shantinagar and Mohakhali -- formalin-free to check the misuse of the chemical.