Burma’s Food Safety Agency Finds Urea in Fish Paste Sample

By Nyein Nyein 28 September 2013

Burma’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Friday it has found high levels of urea in a sample of fish paste, or Ngapi, which is a staple of the Burmese diet.

Last month, Myanmar’s only consumer rights group—the Consumer Protection Association—claimed that urea-based fertilizer is being widely used in the production of fish paste and is putting the health of consumers at risk. The association sent three samples of fish paste sold in Burma to the FDA department of the Health Ministry on Aug. 28.

“Sample No. 2 is found to contain more urea than it should have,” Professor Dr Myint Han, the director general of the FDA, told The Irrawaddy.

However, he said, “It is hard to say whether this urea is from the fertilizer or not, because we found ammonia, which could come from the fish’s own urea.”

The urea and ammonia are unstable compounds, and in the long term they usually dissolve and should not pose serious health risks, said Dr Myint Han, although he admitted it is difficult to rule out health problems arising from ingesting the chemicals in the long term.

The FDA will continue to conduct researching and testing in order to ensure safety for consumers, he said.

“We are doing our best for the food safety for consumer, but we still have to analyze these without having a standardized method,” Dr Myint Han said.

Ba Oak Khaing, the chairman of the Consumer Protection Association said, sample No. 2 was fish paste purchased in Irrawaddy Division.

“The result from the FDA finally came out almost a month after we submitted the samples to test,” said Ba Oak Khaing. “But the FDA still cannot clearly distinguish whether these urea are organic urea [from animal or human waste] or inorganic [from fertilizer].”

Ba Oak Khaing argued that “If the urea is organic, it would be found in all three samples,” but the tests is only found it in one sample.

After the Consumer Protection Association raised concerns about urea-based fertilizer being used in Ngapi, some sellers have reportedly seen their sales drop. Ba Oak Khaing said consumers were becoming cautious about the fish paste and that some sellers had reported a drop of two thirds in demand.

Ba Oak Khaing said other than Ngapi, other products had been found to have high levels of potentially dangerous ingredients, since regulation of food standards is lacking in Burma. Red chili sauce, which is used in Burmese salads and noodle salad, has been found to contain excessive bacteria, he said.