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In 1992 a national moratorium was placed on food irradiation in Australia, due to the uncertainty of its effects on health.

On 3/8/99, without public consultation or debate, the Australian and New Zealand Ministers of Health, meeting as the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council, agreed to the irradiation of food on a case-by-case basis.

Currently before the Australia & New Zealand Food Authority is the first application relating to food irradiation:  Application No. A413.  This is a request to irradiate teas, nuts, oil seeds, herbs and spices.

If this application is successful, it will open the door to the irradiation of a wide range of foodstuffs;  in the U.S.A. fruit, vegetables, juices (both fruit & veg.), beef, poultry, pork, eggs, etc are being so "treated". 

In Australia, food will be irradiated using gamma radiation from Cobalt 60, a waste product from nuclear reactors.  This material will be shipped from Canada and stored on site for 25 years.  Australia is, in effect, agreeing to become a storage site for nuclear waste that nobody wants.

The gamma radiation from Cobalt 60 is released through a decay reaction in the nucleus of the Co-60 atom.  This is a nuclear reaction.  Cobalt 60 is a highly radioactive substance, which means that it emits high levels of radiation at any one time.  Due to this factor, it has a relatively short half life of 5.27 years i.e. at the end of 5.27 years it is half as radioactive as it was 5.27 years previously. 

Uranium 235, used in nuclear reactors, has a half life of 700 million years.

Therefore, if a fire analogy is used:  Cobalt 60 burning like a raging inferno burns out quickly;  but Uranium 235, smouldering slowly, takes a long time to burn out.

The first proposed food irradiation plant in Australia has a design capacity of 3,500,000 curies.  One Cobalt 60 pencil contains between 8,000 to 12,000 curies.  In the event of a nuclear incident 1 cobalt pencil alone has the potential to contaminate an area of 6,000 km2. 

For comparison purposes, a hospital uses about 1 curie for all its needs.  Exposure to less than 0.000 001 curie (1 micro curie) of radioactivity is enough to cause cancer.

 In early 1999 Steritech Pty. Ltd. commenced discussions with the Caboolture Shire Council in regard to building an irradiation facility on the Narangba Industrial Estate - approx. 35 km from Brisbane's G.P.O.  

They were given the encouragement and support of the Qld. State Development Department, owners of the subject land (despite Labour's stated Anti-Nuclear Policy).

 In August, 1999 the Federal Government relaxed the Standard on Food, (Standard A17) allowing for irradiation as mentioned earlier. Steritech themselves made a submission in favour of this moratorium being lifted.

Also in August, 1999 the Caboolture Shire Council approved Steritech's application for a Material Change of Use (Consent) under the Integrated Planning Act, 1997 - a necessary requirement to enable the facility to be built on that site.

The public were notified by a small development application notice in the local papers.  Requests for further public consultation were refused.

The development application stated that the plant was for "the sterilisation and decontamination of medical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and OTHER products".

Because of the large amount of Cobalt 60 that was to be used (starting up with 300,000 curies, building to 500,000 curies within 5 years, plant capacity of 3,500,000 curies), and the fact that most medical products are now produced overseas, it seemed obvious that the purpose had to be for food irradiation.

It was not possible to obtain confirmation of that from local or relevant state government departments at the time.

An appeal against the Council's approval of the application for a Material Change of Use (Consent) was lodged in the Planning and Environment Court.  This resulted in the Council's decision being upheld.  Hearings were held in April and June 2000.

It has now been confirmed that there is every possibility that this plant will be used for food irradiation. Steritech has lodged application A413 with ANZFA (dated April 2000).

The proposed site for this plant is in an area that was  paperbark wetland.  It has a high water table and sandy sub-soil, and could be easily contaminated in case of a leakage.  The area is in a creek catchment that feeds into Moreton Bay, a huge recreational area for Brisbane and surrounding areas.   In a time of severe flooding that site could be adversely affected. 

It is close to highly-populated residential areas and schools.

No insurance company will provide coverage against loss or damages arising as a result of a nuclear incident.

In short, a worse site could not have been found for a nuclear facility.

The Caboolture Shire Council stated that no Environmental Impact Study was required.

However, under the Commonwealth's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Steritech's proposal is recognised as a Nuclear Action;  therefore, it is subject to further assessment and approval by the EPBC.  As at March 15, 2001 the proposal was being considered by the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment.  (See web page at this site: "Status of Plant Applications".)

The Queensland Department of Health administers the Radiation Safety Act 1999.  Under this Act, anyone who possesses, uses or transports prescribed quantities of radioactive substances is required to hold an appropriate licence.  As at March 15, 2001 Steritech had not yet applied to Queensland Health for this licence. (See web page at this site:  "Status of Plant Applications").

The Queensland Minister for Health, Wendy Edmond MP, has advised that "As Minister, the Radiation Safety Act 1999 does not confer on me, or Queensland Health, any discretionary powers for the allocation of a licence where all negotiations are able to be met".

In the 1980's there was an incident at Steritech's Dandengong irradiation plant, when the plant was shut down for 5 days because the wire cable controlling the Cobalt-60 source rods jammed, preventing the source rack from being lowered into the containment tank.  (The Dandenong plant is used for irradiating medical waste, etc., not food.)

Moreover, there is the possibility that food could be contaminated by toxic and carcinogenic compounds used/emitted from existing factories in very close proximity:

Timber treatment plant using Copper Chromium Arsenic;


 Toxic waste disposal plant, disposing of carcinogenic PCB's;


A tannery;


Chemical plants.  

(There is also a proposal for another tannery next door to Steritech's site.)

The Beattie Labour Government says they are in favour of this plant as it will create jobs.  The reality is that only 8-10  jobs at the very most will be created.

Growers in the Caboolture Shire have been told that irradiation of food will benefit our export markets.  However, under WTO. rules, if we export irradiated food we cannot prohibit its importation.  Food can be grown more cheaply in Asia and other third world countries.  In addition, the U.S. and EU. governments still heavily subsidise some sectors of their primary production - these foodstuffs may also be cheaper than those produced locally. 

Thus, we could well see the destruction of the livelihood of even more Australian farmers and the negative, economic and social spin-off effects on other sectors of the community as well.

Food Security for Australia can, therefore, be put at risk as irradiation increases shelf life of produce, allowing it to be transported over long distances.

In the ANZFA Fact Sheet - "Facts About the New Standard on Food Irradiation" dated 19/09/2000 it was stated that "a prohibitive policy [on food irradiated to specified standards] would be difficult to justify on technical grounds and could be challenged under the WTO. as a technical barrier to trade".

In view of many scientific studies showing very adverse effects relating to food irradiation, the Precautionary Principle should apply in regard to this technology.

Further, in November, 2000 talks stalled at the A.P.E.C. Summit in Brunei, with Malaysia and other member countries saying that they will not enter into a new WTO Round without a known agenda.  They have called for the WTO to first resolve problems which have arisen from implementing the existing WTO agreements. 

This would have been an opportunity for the Federal Government to align Australia with Malaysia, etc;  to demand re-negotiation of trade agreements that do not benefit our economy, our health, our society or the environment.

Instead, Mr. Howard announced his intention of leap -frogging into new bi-lateral trade agreements with Singapore and the U.S.A., negotiations commencing January, 2001.  (In the case of the U.S.A., as soon as the new Administration was in place.)

At a time when the rest of the world is crying out for clean, healthy, organic food - and Australia is in a position to supply that need - we are turning to this technology.

Australia recently won an enormous contract to supply canola to Europe.  We won this contract because their main suppliers, Canada and the U.S. are genetically engineering their canola crops.

Irradiation is hiding under the guise of food safety:

Food irradiation is of immense benefit to the nuclear industry in that it is a means of "dumping" their nuclear waste and at the same time making huge profits from so doing.*

Corporations engaged in food production and processing stand to make enormous profits by extending the shelf life of some foods.

Food producers and processors using dirty methods find it cheaper to irradiate rather than clean up their act.

* Refer under category "Food Irradiation - Fact sheets" for information on food irradiation's roots in the weapons and nuclear industries.

 Note also the very disturbing role of the World Health Organization in food irradiation and its relationship to the International Atomic Energy Agency:

"The History of Food Irradiation"








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