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Several reporters in the UK have written about the disappearance of Bombay Duck and have approached the EC, or UK Government agencies, for guidance. They were all told the story about the contaminated fresh and frozen fish as though it applied to Bombay Duck. This made it seem that the ban on Bombay Duck was quite reasonable. Furthermore, the European Commission and the UK government are telling anyone who asks that there is no ban on Bombay Duck!
On the 14 August 1997 in The Independent, Louise Kay quoted a Department of Health spokesman as saying that the EC had obviously found certain pathogens in these fishery products. On the 15 August 1997 John Kay wrote a news article in The Sun on the demise of Bombay Duck. He quoted an EC spokesperson who said: "The ban is in the interest of the health and safety of consumers". He reported that the UK Department of Health backed the Europe-wide ban.
Following Jim White's article in the Mail on Sunday Review on the 19 April 1998 he wrote that an EU spokesperson told him a different story to the one reported here. Only two journalists discovered the truth. Christopher Booker of the Sunday Telegraph who never takes at face value the statements that come out of Brussels and Graeme Rigby of the BBC who went to India to see Bombay Duck production.
Iqbal Wahhab ex-editor of Tandoori Magazine says "the Bombay Duck ban is based on ignorance and cultural bias and needs to be challenged politically by our representatives in the UK, many of whom rely on the votes of those who own and work in Britain's 8,000 Indian restaurants, which are being starved of one of their established revenue streams". A statement on the economic contribution to the UK of these restaurants is on the Curryworld web site.
It was only by asking the specific question about evidence against Bombay Duck that this writer discovered that there was no evidence.
On 14 April 1998 the Commission wrote that "the Indian Competent Authority must in the first instance judge whether they consider a fishery product fulfils the requirements of the Community legislation, before requesting the authorisation of an establishment to export to the Community". Again, insisting that Bombay Duck is produced in "an establishment".
The claim that the ban has been lifted is directly contradicted by a communication from the Indian Marine Exports Development Authority, 13 January 1998: "It is confirmed that India could not export Bombay Duck, as imports of dried fishes are yet to be permitted by the European Union".
Mr. David Hallam, now an ex-Member of the European Parliament for Herefordshire and Shropshire and a member of the European Parliament Agriculture Committee, was not prepared to dispute a decision to which he had been a party. "Has an application been made for approval of a fisheries establishment to produce Bombay Duck", he asked?
The answer is no and the reason is obvious. An illiterate fisherman will not apply for a few square yards of sandy beach and a pile of sticks to be registered as an approved fish-processing establishment. Neither will he be able to fill-in the Health Certificate in one of the Community languages. The certificate asks, among other questions, if "organoleptic* , parasitological, chemical and microbiological checks" have been made on his produce. He certainly does not have his own microbiological testing laboratory! The Indian government is not going to employ a team of inspectors to visit numerous small villages from November to March to stamp the EC health certificates for an export trade only worth £42,000 a year. Anyway, says Mr Hallam, "I visited a curry house in Leominster and there was no shortage of choice even without Bombay Duck".
In May this year, 1999, the main UK importer of Bombay Duck, TRS Wholesale Ltd., went to India in an attempt to arrange the import of the product under the new EC and UK government regulations. Two supporters went to Mumbai, the new name for Bombay, this summer and contacted all the "EU approved fish processing establishments" in the hope of persuading them to take on packing Bombay Duck. They failed completely. Yet we are told time and time again "there is no ban"!
On the 14 December 1999 I was interviewed on BBC Radio Wales in conjunction with Mr Geoffrey Martin, Head of the EU office in Britain. He repeated that the restriction on imports was for food safety reasons even though I pointed out it had a clean bill of health. He claimed it was possible to get Bombay Duck in London right now! If so the importer would be very surprised, having failed to secure a legal supply earlier in the year. I am afraid Mr Martin was probably thinking of Peking Duck! The Director of the Curry Club confirmed to me that it is still not available in the major wholesaler's warehouses. Mr Martin was asked exactly where he was able to buy Bombay Duck in London; in reply he avoided the question by saying "there was nothing to prevent suppliers from India...exporting to the UK providing they meet the health and safety standards required."
Thanks to diligent enquiries by one of my supporters we have up-to-date confirmation from the Indian High Commission that imports are still obstructed (6/12/99). It also transpires that bottled Bombay Duck Pickle is also banned. Evans Gray & Hood Foods Ltd. report that the problem is the fish content is too high.
So, we have the Kafkaesque situation that there is no ban on Bombay Duck, but you cannot buy it! Most people will recognise that UK ministers, officials and the European Commission are being economical with the truth.
(The EC has also banned vark, or edible silver leaf used in curry cuisine, but that is another story!)
*Organoleptic tests are typically carried out by human inspectors who rely primarily on "sight, smell, and feel" tests. Since they rely a great deal upon human judgement, organoleptic tests are hardly scientific. However, the US Department of Agriculture is phasing in a system of tests designed to detect microbial threats such as E. coli contamination and salmonella, which can't be detected in strict organoleptic testing. Similar measures are expected from the European Union. Microbial tests are typically carried out by small microbiology firms.(STRATFOR's FindFacts Service)