A debate has been raging in New Zealand over whether or not to keep importing tomatoes grown in Oz which have been zapped with radiation. Many are concerned about whether the tomatoes present a health risk but many people say the argument has more to do with rivalry than legitimate food safety fears, especially considering that the concerns were raised by Kiwi growers.
These New Zealand growers of tomatoes have raised concerns that supermarkets could be stocking irradiated tomatoes and capsicums originating in Oz from next month. Radiation is a chemical free way of treating crops for pests which have the potential to destroy entire crops.
Some believe that this method is safe and helps to eliminate the need for dangerous pesticides which transfer to food, water sources and other animals cause a lot of damage. But some are concerned that the “new” method of eradicating pests carries other health concerns for consumers.
This article from New Zealand website, www.nzherald.co.nz explains:
The Greens have called for a halt to imports of irradiated tomatoes, while Tomatoes NZ chairman Alasdair MacLeod has said while the process was safe, he would not eat an irradiated tomato.
The comments have drawn criticism from Australian vegetable industry group Ausveg, whose public affairs manager William Churchill said the debate had been fuelled by trans-Tasman rivalry.
“There is a fierce competitiveness between Australia and New Zealand when it comes to who can produce the best. You only need to look at the time-old argument about who invented the pavlova.
“The head of Tomatoes NZ is probably saying ‘I would rather eat a New Zealand tomato over an Australian tomato,’ regardless of had it been irradiated.”
Mr Churchill said irradiation was a safe method which avoided the need to fumigate with methyl bromide – a process that took a week to complete and damaged the ozone layer.
So basically there is no cause concern. The tomatoes are just given a hit of radiation which kill the pests but have no effect on the fruit or vegetable itself.
According to Mr Churchill comments from people such as the Greens which questioned the safety of irradiation are merely scare tactics, “irresponsible” and “disingenuous”.
NZ Greens’ biosecurity spokesman Steffan Browning said irradiated food should not be imported into New Zealand because it destroyed essential vitamins and nutrients in fruit and vegetables. According to Browning, many alternative methods are available instead of irradiation, such as heat or cold treatments, controlled atmospheres and ozone treatments. According to the Greens we should not attempt to combat problems of strong pesticides with irradiation when there are other “safer” ways of accomplishing the same thing.
The post went on to explain:
“Unlike Australia, New Zealand does not have compulsory labelling of fresh produce – so under the current regime, unless retailers take it upon themselves to clearly label irradiated Australian tomatoes and capsicums, consumers won’t know.”
Horticulture NZ chief executive Peter Silcock supported calls for tough labelling requirements.
“Kiwis don’t get enough information about the origin of the food they buy and eat,” he said.
“We must at the very least have point-of-sale labelling for irradiated tomatoes and information provided to food service, hospitality and catering providers.”