Australian tomatoes are set to appear on New Zealand shelves but a local lobby group is questioning how consumers will be able to spot them.

Tomatoes New Zealand - which represents more than 150 commercial tomato growers - is urging food retailers and the hospitality sector to label or indicate where imported irradiated Australian tomatoes are sold or served.

Irradiation 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 organisation says.

New Zealand already accepts a number of irradiated tropical fruit from Australia not grown here, including mango, papaya and custard apple.


Tomatoes New Zealand called on those importing, selling or serving tomatoes to understand they must comply with the New Zealand Food Standards Code which stated that all food which had been irradiated, or food containing irradiated ingredients, must be labelled.

Tomatoes New Zealand chairman Alasdair MacLeod said food and hospitality retailers needed to understand the responsibility they now had to their customers.
"They must work to clearly label their irradiated produce at point of sale and on their menus.''

Unlike Australia, New Zealand did not have compulsory labelling of fresh produce - so unless retailers clearly labelled irradiated Australian tomatoes and capsicums, consumers wouldn't be able to distinguish irradiated tomatoes from New Zealand tomatoes which are never irradiated, he said.

"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.

"However, we do want consumers to have information at point of sale so they can make an informed decision whether to eat irradiated tomatoes ...''

Last month New Zealand Health Import Standards were amended by the Ministry for Primary Industries - permitting Australian irradiated tomatoes to be imported and sold to food and hospitality sectors here.

Tomatoes New Zealand had been working with the Ministry and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye to ensure the legal labelling requirements for retailers and processors was strongly enforced and monitored.

"We are pleased that the Ministry has plans to inform sellers of the labelling requirements and will work to monitor and penalise retailers if they refuse to comply with the code,'' Mr MacLeod said.