This morning Radio New Zealand covered a story (audio) where Tomatoes New Zealand (TNZ, the growers association) was asking the Government to introduce compulsory labeling for irradiated products (namely imported Australian tomatoes), stating that consumers deserve an informed choice (TNZ Press Release). Two points that I think merit attention:

  • Food irradiation is perfectly safe: it does not make food radioactive, it does not alter the nutritional value of food and reduces the presence (or completely eliminates) the presence of microorganisms that cause disease or pests (the latter being the reason for irradiation in this case).
  • The second point is that the call for labeling does not come from consumers (or an organization representing them) but from producers that face competition.

This situation reminded me of Milton Friedman talking about professional licenses The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies. Who is doing the lobbying is very telling in this case, particularly because there is no real reason to induce fear on the consumer, except that irradiation sounds too close to radioactive, and therefore TNZ is hoping to steer consumers away from imported tomatoes. Given that TNZ is for informing the consumer they could label tomatoes with ‘many of the characteristics in this tomato are the product of mutations‘. Harmless but scary.

P.S. The media is now picking up the story. Shameful manipulation.
P.S.2 Give that TNZ is in favor of the right to know I want a list of all chemicals used in the production of New Zealand tomatoes, how good is their water management and the employment practices of tomato growers.