Plant quarantine & food safety
Fruit flies and other insect pest restrict the export of Australian tropical fruits to markets such as New Zealand and the United States. Australian mangoes, papaya and lychees are fruit fly hosts and must undergo an approved quarantine treatment for fruit flies and other insect pests prior to export to New Zealand.
There are a range of potential plant quarantine treatments such as fumigants, insecticides, thermal treatments such as heat and cold, and irradiation.
The principal fumigant, methyl bromide, is classified as an ozone depleter and is being restricted under the Montreal Protocol.
The Agriculture Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is reviewing two important horticulture quarantine insecticides in Australia, dimethoate and fenthion. These insecticides are not used in other countries as post harvest plant quarantine treatments. It is widely anticipated that post harvest use will be restricted for edible peel products such as tomatoes, capsicum, zucchini, stonefruit and apples. Suspension of many post harvest uses for dimethoate were announced on 6 October 2011. Suspension of many post harvest uses for fenthion were announced on 31 October 2012.
Cold treatments are relatively slow and damage tropical fruit. Heat treatments are not effective against all the insects found in Australian tropical fruits that are of concern to markets such as New Zealand and the United States.
Irradiation is fast and effective against the insects of concern, and is increasingly being used around the world as a plant quarantine treatment. There is an internationally agreed standard for irradiation as a phytosanitary (plant quarantine) measure; International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures 18 - Guidelines for the use of irradiation as a phytosanitary measure. .
The New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries approved access to the New Zealand market for Australian mangoes in 2004, papaya in 2006, lychee in 2008 and tomatoes and capsicum in 2013. Irradiation is the approved treatment for the insects of concern to New Zealand and the minimum dose required by New Zealand for the insect pests of concern is 250 Gy.
Malaysia has approved irradiation as a treatment for Australian mangoes. The minimum dose required by Malaysia for the insect pests of concern is 300 Gy.
The United States Department of Agriculture granted access to the United States for Australian mangoes and lychee in September 2013. Irradiation is the approved treatment; a minimum dose of 400 Gy for the insect pests of concern.
Irradiation treatment will open a number of Asian markets to Australian tropical fruit by providing a cost effective treatment for their pests of concern.
The Australian Department of Agriculture (DA) Biosecurity has approved irradiation as a treatment for Indian mangoes.
DA Biosecurity supervises the irradiation treatment in accordance with export market official requirements.
Within Australia there is an agreed interstate irradiation treatment for fruit flies and other insects of concern within horticulture, ICA-55.
There is a broad international scientific consensus that food treated with irradiation for plant quarantine requirements is safe and wholesome. Codex Alamantarius Commission, the United Nations agency responsible for food safety matters established a standard in 1983 after extensive consultation.
Food Standards Australian New Zealand (FSANZ) have a standard within the Food Standard Code for food irradiation, Standard 1.5.3.
FSANZ have published a fact sheet on food irradiation. FSANZ have also published their assessment reports on applications to irradiate tropical fruit (2003), persimmon (2011) and tomatoes and capsicum (2013). FSANZ are currently considering application A1092 for approval for irradiation as a phytosanitary treatment for a further 11 specified fruits.
Regarding labeling and consumer information, the FSANZ Food Standards Code Standard 1.5.3 requires a statement that the fruit has been treated with ionising radiation. There is no such requirement for labeling or consumer information for some other plant quarantine treatments such as ozone depleting methyl bromide or insecticide dips.
Queensland Health has published a fact sheet on food irradiation.
The State of Victoria has published a fact sheet on food irradiation.
The New Zealand Food Safety Authority has published a fact sheet on food irradiation.
Horticulture Australia Ltd, the Australian horticulture industry research, development and marketing organisation published an information paper on food irradiation in 2003.
The International Consultative Group on Food Irradiation published ‘Facts about Food Irradiation'.
The United States Department of Agriculture has published an FAQ fact sheet on food irradiation.
The United States Centre for Disease Control has also published an FAQ on food irradiation.
The United States Grocery Manufactures Association (GMA) recently published a guide on food irradiation within their Science Policy Paper series.
Tropical fruit irradiation food safety approval
An application was lodged with the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (FSANZ's predecessor) for approval of irradiation as a phytosanitary treatment for a range on tropical fruits in 2001. This application was titled number A443 by ANZFA.
FSANZ published a draft assessment and, after public consultation, a final assessement for the tropical fruit application A443 in 2002. FSANZ's assessments and reports can be here.
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