Nov 27 2015

Survey shows many retailers don’t know they should label irradiated Australian tomatoes

A survey of independent retailers by TomatoesNZ found that more than a third of those stocking Australian tomatoes were not aware of the requirement to label them as irradiated.

The survey of stores across 23 Auckland suburbs, carried out just prior to the first seasonal imports in April, found that just over half buy Australian tomatoes.  Of these, 81 % knew all Australian tomatoes are irradiated but only 62 per cent said they were aware of labelling requirements.  

”We would like to see the labelling requirements strengthened to include individual labelling of irradiated products. This would place the onus for labelling with the producer and importer, rather than relying on retailers to convey the message,” said Alasdair MacLeod, chair of Tomatoes NZ.

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) standard on Irradiation of Food requires anyone selling irradiated produce to provide clear labelling for customers at point of sale.  To support retailers in meeting their obligations, Tomatoes NZ provided information and point of sale signs for irradiated produce to retailers in 2014.

“However the retailer survey results show that it is difficult to get the message through. Retailers are busy, particularly smaller owner-operated stores who have a myriad of requirements they must meet.

“Labelling at point of sale is important to ensure consumers can choose the food they buy. Another recent survey by Tomatoes New Zealand of consumers found that 85% want irradiated fruit and vegetables to be clearly labelled. Seventy-eight percent said prepared food containing irradiated products should also be labelled.

The retailer survey also found that half of the retailers who did not stock Australian tomatoes said that it was because customers did not like Australian tomatoes, or preferred New Zealand ones. 

Of those retailers stocking Australian tomatoes, nearly half said they did not know where to go for information on labelling. Most others said they got labelling information from wholesale markets or other sources. 

As outlined in last month’s magazine, Mr MacLeod said the organisation had shared the results with FSANZ and met with them in October to reiterate again the need for the need for labelling at point-of-sale.

FSANZ has signalled it will seek public views on the labelling requirements during public consultation this month. We urge growers to support this by making a submission to the FSANZ consultation.   Information on making a submission will be available on the tomatoesnz.co.nz website.

Some foods, including all imported Australian tomatoes, are irradiated to preserve the food and kill bacteria and pests. This involves exposing it to ionising radiation and x-rays or gamma rays which pass through it like microwaves in a microwave oven. 

New Zealand tomatoes are never irradiated, but Tomatoes NZ supports measures taken to protect New Zealand’s vulnerable horticulture industry from pests like the Queensland fruit fly.

For information on labelling of irradiated produce or food containing irradiated produce see: www.foodsafety.govt.nz.

Footnote: Tomatoes NZ surveyed 51 independent retailers across Auckland in April 2015. The survey was completed face-to-face.

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