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Irradiated Australian tomatoes set for New Zealand stores

8 August 2013

Irradiated Australian tomatoes set for New Zealand stores – but will consumers know how to spot them?

Tomatoes New Zealand today urged food retailers and the hospitality sector to label or indicate where imported irradiated Australian tomatoes are sold or served.

Some of New Zealand’s retail food outlets are only days away from stocking their vegetable aisles with irradiated Australian tomatoes and capsicums, however many are unaware that they now have a responsibility to their customers to label the produce as irradiated.

Tomatoes New Zealand is calling on those importing, selling or serving tomatoes to understand they must comply with the New Zealand Food Standards Code (FSANZ), which states all food that has been irradiated, or food that contains irradiated ingredients or components, must be labelled or have a label displayed on or close to it stating that it has been treated with ionising radiation.

Alasdair MacLeod, Chair of Tomatoes New Zealand, said: “We are asking all food and hospitality retailers including catering companies to understand the responsibility they now have to their customers. They must work to clearly label their irradiated produce at point of sale and on their menus – to avoid any public confusion.”

Unlike Australia, New Zealand does not have compulsory labelling of fresh produce – so unless retailers clearly label irradiated Australian tomatoes and capsicums, consumers won’t be able to distinguish irradiated tomatoes from New Zealand tomatoes which are never irradiated.

“We acknowledge irradiation is a vital tool to protect New Zealand’s vulnerable horticulture industry from fruit fly and we support its use on at-risk produce,” said Mr MacLeod. “However we do want consumers to have information at point of sale so they can make an informed decision whether to eat irradiated tomatoes for themselves. If consumers are unsure of where their tomatoes or any other produce comes from, please ask your retailer for more information.”

Last month the New Zealand Health Import Standards were amended by the Ministry for Primary Industries - permitting Australian irradiated tomatoes to be imported and sold into the New Zealand food and hospitality sectors.

Tomatoes New Zealand has been working actively with the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Minister for Food Safety, Nikki Kaye, to ensure the legal labelling requirements for retailers and processors is strongly enforced and monitored.

“We are pleased that the Ministry has plans to inform sellers of the labelling requirements and will work to monitor and penalise retailers if they refuse to comply with the FSANZ Code,” said Mr MacLeod. “Although, the implementation is slower than we would have liked, we understand that change takes time and we expect to see MPI initiate their proposed implementation plan in the coming weeks.”

If you believe a retailer is selling unlabelled irradiated produce, you can register your complaint on the Ministry for Primary Industries consumer helpline on 0800 693 721 or email info@mpi.govt.co.nz .

To learn more about irradiation and the labelling requirements for retailers and processors, please visit the Ministry for Primary Industries website www.mpi.govt.nz .

Tomatoes New Zealand represents over 150 commercial fresh tomato growers, with a farm gate value of $110 million per annum, including $10 million of exports sold in 2012.

What is irradiation?
The irradiation process involves eradicating bacteria, mould, insects and other pests by using electrical beams or X-rays, or gamma rays which are generated from the radioactive source Cobalt 60.

The irradiation method most likely to be used for tomatoes and capsicums coming to NZ from August is gamma ray irradiation.

To read more about irradiation please visit the FSANZ website: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/foodirradiation.cfm

What foods are irradiated currently?
New Zealand already accepts a number of irradiated tropical fruit from Australia that we don’t grow in New Zealand such as mango, papaya and custard apple. These fruits are required to have mandatory labelling.

How soon could the tomatoes be in New Zealand retailers?
Irradiated Australian tomatoes could be in our supermarkets in late August 2013. For confirmation of the produces’ arrival dates, please contact the Ministry for Primary Industries, Import and Export Standards department.

ENDS

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