Sunday 21st Jan, 2018

SPECIAL REPORT: Biosecurity, Quarantine & Fumigation

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

THE announcement of a Melbourne treatment facility was a highlight for Australian biosecurity treatment business, Steritech.

Steritech was set up in Brisbane’s northern suburbs but is looking to expand south, while also seeking to seize opportunities overseas.

Steritech is a contract sterilisation and decontamination processor specialist and during the past two decades has developed new means of phytosanitary irradiation.

Phytosanitary irradiation works by sterilising an insect, preventing it from breeding. Potential phytosanitary irradiation sources include Cobalt, E-beam and X-ray.

The latter two use electricity to generate the irradiation.

Ben Reilly, fresh produce business manager at Steritech told the Fresh Plaza publication irradiation’s greatest challenge was developing protocols fast enough for industry demand.

“We travel extensively visiting export markets to understand commercial and consumer needs,” he was quoted as saying.

“We also assist with addressing barriers to market access where it is yet to be achieved. When it comes to creating the new protocols, we work with industry and government to ensure technical requirements do not unnecessarily restrict ability to meet a market’s needs,” he said.

Mr Reilly told Fresh Plaza, irradiation was flexible when compared with chemical and heat-specific treatments.

Irradiation is said to be similar to microwaves or light and exists in the form of energy waves which are passed through a package and product before rapidly dissipating.

The fact there is no residual energy means the fruit is ready to be eaten immediately after treatment.

Proponents say it is effective at all handling temperatures, making it a healthy and fresh solution.

Mr Reilly is optimistic looking to 2018.

“We are forecasting growth based on new market access with the recent cherry protocol to Vietnam. There are also existing markets which we expect will continue to grow including table grapes to Vietnam and mangoes to the USA,” he told DCN.

Earlier in the year, it was announced Steritech would open a new X-ray treatment facility to boost export potential and provide Victorian producers with a major market advantage.

The project is to involve a 3396 square metre warehouse, buildings, and cool rooms at the Melbourne Markets.

Agriculture minister Jaala Pulford described the announcement as “a massive win for growers across our state, a boost for jobs, exports and a Victorian first”.

“The new facility will significantly reduce transport and handling costs and further boost Victoria’s growing $1.1bn horticultural industry,” Ms Pulford said.

Melbourne Market chief executive Mark Maskiell said securing Steritech was a significant step in expanding the Market’s role into other areas of the supply chain.

Increasing demand

Meanwhile, the company says it is confident demand is increasing, demonstrated by the volume of trade and industry support for additional protocols.

“The existing irradiation protocols have created clear benefits for everyone from the farmer through to the consumer,” Mr Reilly told Fresh Plaza.

“It is important for these new protocols to be created with foresight to be effective for future trade.”

He added Australia’s diverse production regions and complex biosecurity scenario was both a challenge and opportunity – and the industry needed to have flexible, effective solutions in place.

“Trade relationships, biosecurity and technology are always changing and impacting each other,” Mr Reilly said.

He said phytosanitary irradiation was playing an increasingly important role in delivering trade and he was confident Australia was in a prime position to take advantage of the technology with world leading facilities, protocols and industry support already present.

Mr Reilly told DCN as protocols became available exporters had been quick to utilise them.

“In some cases the growers and exporters have waited a number of years for the market access negotiations technical requirements to be finalised with the trading partner country,” he said.

“The greatest uptake we see is when irradiation creates the first viable air freight pathway for a product, often complementing existing sea freight options.”

This is an edited version of an article by Matthew Russell first published by Fresh Plaza.

Additional reporting by David Sexton

From the print edition November 23, 2017

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