Irradiated fruit and vegetables from Australia are likely to go on sale here as early as next year.

Importers have welcomed the move but growers say the products could be used in fruit drinks without consumers' knowledge.

Queensland's Department of Agriculture has applied for permission to irradiate 11 fruits and vegetables - apples, apricots, cherries, honeydew melons, nectarines, peaches, plums, rockmelons, strawberries, grapes and zucchini and scallopini - to protect against the Queensland fruit fly.

Under the proposal, fruit on a conveyor belt will be bombarded with gamma rays to kill one of the world's worst pests.

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The change would affect about $2 billion of fruit and vegetables produced by Queensland growers each year. Some goes to New Zealand and other countries but about 70 per cent is sold within Australia, including in states which do not have fruit fly.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand, which last year allowed irradiated tomatoes and capsicums at the same dose to protect against fruit fly, is expected to approve the application next April. New Zealand already allows irradiation for spices and tropical fruits such as mangoes.

Horticulture NZ, which represents fruit and vegetable growers, said it accepted FSANZ's assurance that the process was safe but was concerned that some fruit would probably be used in other products without any warning to shoppers.

Chief executive officer Peter Silcock said a lot of fruit was sold in processed form, such as fruit salads, juices and smoothies, in the fast food, catering and restaurant businesses.

"We've seen it with irradiated tomatoes. We haven't seen a lot of that labelling on products that include tomatoes, yet we know a lot of tomatoes are going into food service."

New Zealand Fresh Produce Importers Association chief executive Kevin Nalder said the agency should fast-track the irradiation of all fresh fruit and vegetables to save costs, as it was now well established that the process was safe.

The association believed irradiation labelling was outdated, as it was only one of many issues which might concern customers.

He said it was unclear whether health import standards would be ready in time to sell some of the products in New Zealand next year. Any approval would come too late for grapes and might miss the winter season for zucchini.

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Irradiated food in NZ

• Now
Tropical fruits (mangoes, breadfruit, carambola, custard apples, longans, lychees, papaya, persimmons, rambutans), herbs, spices, herbal infusions.

• Proposed
Apples, apricots, cherries, honeydew melons, nectarines, peaches, plums, rockmelons, strawberries, grapes, zucchini and scallopini.