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The South Australian Grower -- August 2013 7
Food irradiation takes tentative steps
By ASHLEY WALMSLEY
AUSTRALIAN vegetable and
fruit growers have effectively
waved goodbye to their two
biggest fruitfly treatment chemi-
cals -- dimethoate and fenthion.
The traditional practice of cover-
spraying to achieve fruitfly-free
status has been hard to let go for
some, and jeopardised important
markets for others.
In its simplest form, food
irradiation involves deliberately
exposing food to electromagnetic
While not considered a destroyer
of insects, the treatment guaran-
tees the sterility of fruitflies when
done to the correct levels.
Although the technology has
been around for many years and
is used on food in more than
40 countries, there are significant
hurdles to industry embracing the
Irradiation as a post-harvest
treatment could open doors for
Australian horticulture, estab-
lishing new export markets or
developing interstate trade.
There are 11 tropical fruits
approved for irradiation: bread-
fruit, carambola, custard apple,
longan, lychee, mango, man-
gosteen, papaya, rambutan, and
Last year, the trade in irradi-
ated tropical fruit grew to more
than 1000 tonnes of mangoes,
papayas, and lychees.
The Australian Pesticides and
Veterinary Medicines Authority
review and subsequent suspension
of dimethoate basically stopped
major exports of capsicums and
tomatoes to New Zealand.
In March this year, Food
Standards Australia New Zealand
gave approval for tomatoes and
capsicums to be irradiated for
export across the Tasman, as an
alternative to chemical treatments.
In Australia, government and
agriculture bodies have backed
the technology. AUSVEG has
heavily pushed the method as an
alternative to chemicals.
But retailers have expressed
concern over public resistance to
the very term 'irradiation' and a
consumer backlash against them.
Woolworths declared it is not
willing to "go it alone" on the
introduction of irradiated produce
to the public. An Aldi spokesper-
son said the supermarket chain
had nothing to say about the
topic. Coles did not comment
Murray Lynch, chief execu-
tive officer at Steritech, the sole
irradiation business currently in
Australia, said consumers were
generally not as welcoming of the
application of new technologies
to food production as they were
in other areas.
Food Standards Australia New
Zealand requires that all irradi-
ated produce sold in Australia be
After FSANZ granted the irra-
diation approval, Tomatoes NZ
called on its government to leg-
islate that all irradiated Australian
produce be labelled.
New Zealand Minister for Food
Safety Nikki Kaye rejected the
request but said she would ensure
all irradiated produce is clearly
labelled at point-of-sale.
Cost is cited as the other major
drawback to irradiation.
Steritech said European esti-
mates place the cost of setting up
such a plant as being somewhere
in the vicinity of $15-20 million.
With experts and growers alike
agreeing that there will never
be another two products like
dimethoate and fenthion, the
industry continues to investigate
Food irradiation advocate Peter Roberts, Radiation Advisory Services,
New Zealand, has toured Australia speaking of the benefits of irradiating
fresh produce. A mango on sale with a label indicating it has been
treated with irradiation. Tomatoes have been given approval to be
irradiated and exported to New Zealand from Australia.
Health concerns linger on
NOT everyone is an irradiation fan.
One of its most vocal critics is
Friends of the Earth, a federation
of autonomous local groups who
work towards an environmentally
sustainable and socially equitable
The organisation helped establish
Food Irradiation Watch website
a move it says was in response
to the government and industry
failing to provide adequate,
non-biased information about food
The group says "food irradiation
is a risky technology designed to
support agribusiness with little or
no benefit to the consumer".
Irradiation uses the radioactive
isotope Cobalt-60, and FoE
suggests its use, transport
and storage put Australian
communities and the environment
FoE says it would prefer to see
the extended use of other control
methods such as cold storage, cold
treatment, heat and steam, vapour
treatment, and hot water dips.
Guarantees fruitfly sterility
Trade upwards of 1000t
Technology around for years
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