AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND – Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) is set to amend the country’s historic stance on irradiation permitting the import of irradiation treated fresh fruits and vegetables.

The process involves exposing products to ionizing radiation, either gamma rays, a high-energy electron beam, or x-rays.

 FSANZ has concluded after a review by the Food Safety NZ, that except for the minimal reduction in nutritional value of products, irradiation is a safe and effective biosecurity tool.

Still, the Food safety New Zealand (NZ) has encouraged that irradiation levels in food should be kept as low as reasonably achievable due to the negligible exposure to furans, a carcinogenic compound.

It believes the changes will help open up export markets, placing Australia and New Zealand in line with other countries.

New Zealand has one seat on the ministerial forum that oversees FSANZ, with Food Safety Minister Ayesha Verrall sitting alongside Australian state and federal ministers.

The forum is expected to notify the agency of its view on the change by July 12, after which the rule will be enacted in case of no opposition from the ministers.

The irradiation application was made by the Queensland government, which sought the change to allow for any fresh fruit or vegetables to be treated with irradiation to kill pests.

Currently, the treatment can only be used for 26 specified produce items, including imported tomatoes.

Queensland mangoes were approved for irradiation in 2004 and the list was added to between 2011 and 2016 to include other produce, such as tomatoes and capsicums.

The latest rule change will allow for any fruit or vegetable to be treated if necessary, including vegetables such as asparagus.

According to stuff New Zealand, about 8 per cent of fruits and 0.3 per cent of vegetables imported to New Zealand will be irradiated, if the rule is passed.

Verrall says the treatment is needed as another protection measure against pests like the exotic fruit flies which pose a major threat to New Zealand’s horticulture industry and kiwi home gardens.

GE Free, a non-profit organization that provides up to date information to the public on genetic engineering, has claimed that the authority was putting profits before people.

It said FSANZ’s assessment on the need for irradiation should be made on the quality and safety of food, not on trade and market disruption.

However, the NZ Food and Grocery Council has supported the modification, saying there should be a broad allowance of irradiation, rather than producers having to wait for applications on a case-by-case basis.