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Irradiated Food A Two Way Street

By John Howard Magna Carter Society

Now that the ban on irradiated food is to be lifted there is nothing to stop New Zealand dairy companies irradiating bulk milk, for instance, and exporting it in tankers to be processed into cheese, milk powder or any other dairy product in another low-cost country.

Irradiation makes this possible because, amongst other things, it preserves foods and kills bacteria without the need for chemicals or other preservation processes. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities for our food exports but whether that will be good for New Zealand jobs is another issue.

In July 1995 I was asked to present a paper on Gatt/WTO at a farmers conference in Pukekohe.

I observed that the new Gatt document is 28,000 pages long and it took me eight months reading 800 pages each week to read and digest it. The New Zealand government signed up to it yet it was never bought to Parliament for debate or ratification.

It is hard to see how New Zealand will be able to demand labelling of irradiated food, for example, because that could be construed by another country as "a restriction on international trade" or a "nontrade barrier to trade" and a successful claim to the WTO by another country could result in a penalty or trade sanctions being awarded against us.

Under Gatt/WTO rules all regulatory decisions are to be based on scientific appraisal and risk assesment. Therefore, if we cannot scientifically prove a risk we would not win.

In any event, many other countries are successfully irradiating food and that would be seen as sufficient evidence to through any claim based on unscientific perceptions out the window.

Perceived risks, or those based on emotion and rhetoric, are simply not acceptable under Gatt/WTO rules. However, many opponents of Gatt/WTO say that the barriers and standards for GE and irradiated food are being lowered so much that one day something nasty will jump over them.

It was surprising to read in the NZ Herald (6 August) New Zealand officials now claiming that pressure from Australia finally caused us to capitulate on the 10 year-old ban on irradiated food. Horse-hockey!

The government and its officials have been involved in this up to their necks for years.

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