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 are believed to be arriving in this country.
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.
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.
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, says; “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.
“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,” says Alasdair.. “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.”
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.
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.
“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,” says Alasdair.
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 email@example.com.