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Lawmaker welcomes study on horticulture

Labour MP Dr Ashraf Choudhary has endorsed a New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) Survey on the horticultural industry, saying that it would lead to better produce and higher demand in overseas markets.

The study will analyse how farmers use water, manures, bio-solids and compost in raising fruits and vegetables and recommend ways and means of improving competitiveness of their produce.

NZFSA Specialist Advisor Marion Castle said the Study will enable growers to understand the problems confronted by the fresh produce industry in other parts of the world and protect their products from contamination.

“Internationally, outbreaks of food-borne illness have resulted from contaminated irrigation water, contaminated water used to wash fresh produce, improperly treated manures, animals defecating on fresh produce, and poor personal hygiene practices.

“Our new study will look at organic and conventionally grown fresh produce, focusing on fresh produce intended to be consumed raw, as a raw dried or semi-dried product,” she said.

Dr Choudhary said although incidents relating to contaminated fruits and vegetables were rare in New Zealand, a number of food-borne illnesses have been linked to fresh produce overseas.

According to him, a 2009 NZFSA study had revealed pathogens in only two of 900 samples; both were Salmonella-contaminated lettuces from the same grower.

Editor’s Note: That survey had indicated a low level of contamination in New Zealand produce. The two cited cases were Salmonella- contaminated lettuces from the same grower. But many high-profile food-borne illness outbreaks have been linked to fresh produce overseas. In the US, there have been outbreaks associated with contaminated products including spinach and tomatoes.

Dr Choudhary believes that New Zealand would soon witness increased pressure on natural water supplies.

“On one hand, there is increasing pressure on our available natural water as a number of irrigation projects get the green light and on the other, contamination from dairy farm run-off is reaching the point where many lowland rivers are now deemed not suitable for swimming,” he said.

If such waters are not considered suitable for swimming, they would not be suitable for spray-irrigating horticultural crops on our fertile lowlands, he said.

Ms Castle said the NZFSA researchers would discuss a number of issues with New Zealand growers, including their current practices.

“We would like to know how growers manage risks such as following good agricultural practices and using assurance programmes. This information will contribute to future risk profiles and guidance materials for growers and help them grow fresh produce that is as safe as it can be,” she said.

Dr Choudhary said increased demand for New Zealand produce would be accompanied by demand for proof of high food safety and environmental and ethical standards.

“Which is why we need these benchmarks in the food production chain, so that we can identify the risk areas in advance and eliminate them before any food contamination problems become apparent,” he said.

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