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Unlabelled irradiated Australian tomatoes now on NZ shelves

Media release

30 June 2014

Unlabelled irradiated Australian tomatoes now on New Zealand shelves

Kiwis urged to ask retailers if their tomatoes are irradiated

New Zealanders are being urged to once again ask their retailer if their tomatoes have been treated with radiation, as large volumes of unlabelled irradiated Australian tomatoes hit local shelves.

Currently there are tonnes of irradiated Australian tomatoes being imported into New Zealand vegetable markets and food retail outlets nationwide, according to Tomatoes New Zealand.

Food retailers and the hospitality sector are legally required to label or indicate where imported irradiated Australian tomatoes are sold or served. However many are unaware that they have a responsibility to their customers to label the produce as irradiated.

Alasdair MacLeod, Chair of Tomatoes New Zealand, said; “We are asking all food and hospitality retailers, including catering companies, to clearly label their irradiated produce at point of sale and on their menus to avoid any public confusion.”

“We are also urging people to register their complaints with the Ministry for Primary Industries via their hotline number and/or email should they believe irradiated Australian tomatoes are being sold without any labelling or signage provided.”

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

Unlike Australia, New Zealand does not have mandatory country of origin labelling of fresh produce – so unless retailers clearly label irradiated Australian tomatoes, 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 about whether or not to eat irradiated tomatoes. If consumers are unsure of where their tomatoes or any other produce comes from, please ask your retailer for more information.”

In June last year 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 continues to work closely with the Ministry for Primary Industries to ensure the legal labelling requirements for retailers and processors is strongly enforced and monitored.

“We are pleased that the Ministry is taking this issue seriously and continues to monitor and penalise retailers if they refuse to comply with the New Zealand Food Standards Code,” said Mr MacLeod.

“We simply want consumers to be able to tell the difference between an irradiated Australian loose tomato and an un-irradiated New Zealand loose tomato.”

If you believe a retailer is selling unlabelled irradiated produce, you can register your complaint on the Ministry for Primary Industries phone hotline on 0800 693721 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 websitewww.mpi.govt.nz.

Tomatoes New Zealand represents over 150 commercial fresh tomato growers, with a farm gate value of $110 million per annum, including $8.5 million (195 tonnes) of exports sold in 2013.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor:

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 New Zealand Food Standards Code 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.


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