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NZ firm backs plans for fruit irradiation plant in Australia


New Zealand's largest fruit and vegetables importer,Turners and Growers, has entered a joint venture with the US-based SureBeam Corporation, to set up a new irradiation plant in Australia, reports

SureBeam uses electron beam technology to rid pests from tropical fruits. It still requires the go-ahead from food ministers and Biosecurity Australia, and given such approval, plans to build a $16 million (E9.54m) plant in northern Australia.

Queensland is potentially the closest and most cost-competitive source of tropical fruit but pests such as fruit fly led New Zealand importers to source mangoes from Peru and Ecuador.

Turners and Growers CEO Don Turner said: "This is an excellent opportunity to increase the range of tropical fruits available to New Zealand consumers."

"SureBeam technology is a proven system that will safely address the significant bio-security constraints that Australian tropical fruits currently face," he added.

SureBeam Australia managing director Michael Daysh said: "We would build the plant close to the fruit or close to an international airport so it could be anywhere from Sydney to Darwin or Cairns."

He added: "This would open up the United States, New Zealand and some north Asian markets to Australian tropical fruit growers." Export potential was estimated at around $50 million over five to 10 years.

SureBeam claims that pests such as seed weevil in mangoes, macadamia nut borer in lychees, and scale and mealy-bugs, which infest a range of fruits, are all safely eliminated by e-beam irradiation.

Australian growers could also export longans, rambutan, mangosteens and breadfruit if irradiation was permitted, Daysh said.

Irradiation of food has been banned in Australia since 1999, but food ministers have made exempt the irradiation of herbs, spices and herbal teas using cobalt 60.

SureBeam, which uses commercially available electricity to disinfest fruits by bombarding them with electron beams, has been in use for two years in Hawaii, allowing the export of papaya to California.

The Australia New Zealand Food Authority said it is currently conducting a safety assessment of e-beams and would put a draft food standard on the technology out for public comment in March.

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