Fears over treated Aussie tomatoes

23:50, Apr 30 2013

New Zealanders could unknowingly be eating irradiated Australian tomatoes and capsicums from next month if labelling laws are not changed, says a New Zealand horticulture industry group.

Tomatoes New Zealand said today that Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye would decide this month whether the irradiated tomatoes and capsicums could be imported from June.

They could go on sale in retail outlets, cafes and restaurants, and Tomatoes NZ wants consumers to know what they are getting.

"We are demanding compulsory labelling on all irradiated produce, loose or otherwise, be clear and enforced, so that Kiwi consumers can make an informed decision between Australian irradiated tomatoes and New Zealand tomatoes," Tomatoes NZ chairman Alasdair MacLeod said today.

"Consumers have the right to know where their produce comes from and how it has been treated.

"We label shoes and clothing with their country of origin. Why wouldn't we label [all] food?"

MacLeod said that unlike Australia, New Zealand did not have compulsory labelling of fresh produce.

Produce is irradiated in Queensland before it is exported so pests like fruit fly do not leave the country.

Irradiated tropical fruit from Australia, like mango, papaya, and custard apples, are already exported to New Zealand, but they have to be labelled.

MacLeod said the irradiation method most likely to be used for tomatoes and capsicums coming to NZ from June was gamma ray irradiation.

Irradiation is used in more than 50 countries to destroy bacteria and extend the shelf life of food, says Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

The food travels on a conveyor belt, through a radiation field. The radiation could come from an electron beam or from X-rays, or from gamma rays, which are generated from the radioactive source Cobalt 60.

The authority said irradiated food is not radioactive, because it does not come into contact with the radioactive source.

MacLeod said New Zealand tomatoes were never irradiated.