Labelling call for Australian irradiated food

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 08:34 09/05/2013

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Tomato growers are putting pressure on the Government to make sure gamma ray-irradiated tomatoes and capsicums coming from Australia are clearly labelled.

Tomatoes New Zealand, a body of 150 commercial fresh tomato growers, is urging Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye to ensure that labelling is carried out when irradiated tomatoes and capsicums are expected to arrive at supermarkets, restaurants and cafes next month.

Unlike Australia, New Zealand does not have compulsory labelling of fresh produce.

Tomatoes New Zealand chairman Alasdair MacLeod said shoppers could make their own buying decisions, if there was labelling of irradiated tomatoes and capsicums.

"I'm sure all the evidence says it's safe and we applaud the fact the New Zealand and Australian governments are doing everything they can for border security, so the issue is not irradiation. It's not a safety issue for us, but we believe consumers should be able to make an informed choice."

Without labelling, shoppers and diners would not know if they were buying irradiated Australian produce or non- irradiated New Zealand produce, he said.

The Queensland Government has applied to export irradiated tomatoes and capsicums to New Zealand. This has been approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the final decision about how it will proceed now sits with Ms Kaye.

The state of Queensland irradiates fresh produce before it is exported to remove any contamination with bacteria or pests, such as the Queensland fruit fly.

New Zealand accepts some irradiated tropical fruit from Australia such as mango, papaya and custard apple, and some herbs are understood to go through the irradiation process. The fruits have compulsory labelling.

Irradiation is performed using electrical beams or X-rays, or gamma rays generated from the radioactive source cobalt 60. The method most likely to be used for tomatoes and capsicums is gamma ray irradiation.

New Zealand was self- sufficient in producing tomatoes last year, because no tomatoes arrived from Australia as their growers did not have an accepted treatment for fruit fly until irradiation was cleared.

Mr MacLeod said irradiation was a vital tool to protect New Zealand's vulnerable horticulture industry from fruit fly.

"In New Zealand we don't irradiate anything. But we don't have to deal with the Queensland fruit fly."

However, consumers should have the right to know tomatoes had been through irradiation, he said.

Horticulture growers had been pushing for compulsory labelling for years. But the important issue for now was to concentrate on tomatoes and capsicums.

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"This is a great example of why we support the mandatory country-of-origin labelling being introduced into New Zealand. We label shoes and clothing with their country of origin. Why wouldn't we label food?"

Horticulture New Zealand is also concerned that the labelling requirements will not be tough enough, to ensure shoppers know what they are buying.

- The Dominion Post

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