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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2047


Ms JAKOBSEN(10.20) —I wish to speak tonight on the food irradiation question which is currently being discussed in the West Australian newspaper. The fifth annual World Consumer Rights Day was observed on Sunday 15 March with the theme `Food-in the consumer interest'. Most honourable members here would be aware of the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) also hosted a Press conference that week to discuss consumer affairs and prices. But, as I said earlier, I want to speak about food irradiation.

The United Nations guidelines for consumer protection list food, water and pharmaceuticals as areas of essential concern. The guideline on food focuses on food security, food standards and food safety. But the range of food issues is really much wider, covering additives, hormones and pesticide use in the food chain, as well as fast foods and nutrition, packaging and consumer information.

The seven rights associated with World Consumer Rights Day are as follows: The right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose, the right to be heard, the right to redress, the right to consumer education and the right to a healthy environment.


Mr Peter Fisher —What about the right to eat?


Ms JAKOBSEN —Some honourable members opposite should think about that more often. Tonight I want to spend a few minutes talking about the consumer interest and consumer rights in the context of food irradiation. It is my firm personal opinion that irradiated food is not safe. I do not believe that consumers will have a meaningful choice in the purchase of irradiated goods; nor do I believe that consumers are being given a fair hearing on this question. There will be no redress for consumers if irradiated food proves subsequently to be unsafe. Very little consumer education will be provided and the environment may well be polluted as a result of the widespread use of this process for treating food.

According to an article in the Guardian newspaper of Saturday 7 March 1987-I believe the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Scott) also mentioned it earlier this week-which was written by its medical correspondent, Andrew Veitch, the British Medical Association's Board of Science recently ruled that irradiation used to sterilise food might cause genetic mutations in children, would destroy some nutrients, and would still expose consumers to the risk of food poisoning. The Board called for a full scale international investigation before the process is legalised. Australian consumers and medical practitioners should also be insisting on such an investigation.


Mr Peter Fisher —I take a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order is that there is presently an inquiry being conducted by the House of Representatives into this issue. Surely nothing could be more public than an inquiry such as that.


Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member does not have a point of order; he has a point of information.


Ms JAKOBSEN —I thank the honourable member for Mallee. I am aware of that inquiry. In fact at the end of my speech I intend to mention it. At a recent meeting of consumers I attended, which was called `Mothers and others for world peace'-some honourable members opposite are not for that-it was obvious that most people are worried about the prospect of feeding their families anything that has not been properly cleared for use. This article simply proves that my concerns and theirs are warranted and wise. No one wants to see another thalidomide incident. Why should Australia rush into this process when there is little demonstrated benefit in it for consumers and when a number of overseas countries are now expressing considerable doubts about its safety?

The British Medical Association said that the British Government's advisers, headed by Sir Arnold Burgen, Master of Darwin College, Cambridge, failed to exclude possible long term medical effects on consumers. Dr John Dawson, head of the BMA's science division, said:

It is important that we should be careful about introducing new techniques for treating or sterilising food. If a new technique is introduced, it would have to show a worthwhile benefit on a risk-benefit analysis. The Board of Science feels such a benefit has not been established.

Dr Dawson also said that `there are clear adverse effects to set against the benefits'. The Board of Science gave considerable weight to the results of an investigation in the 1970s involving Indian children who were fed irradiated wheat. Scientists found genetic mutations in the children's white blood cells, which might have been cancerous. When the children stopped eating the irradiated wheat, the cells returned to normal. The British Medical Association's Board of Science found that the process does not prevent all forms of food poisoning either. The people of Australia do not want to be treated as guinea pigs, as these Indian children were apparently treated.

I am aware of the inquiry that is currently being carried out by the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation. I am very pleased that that inquiry is occurring and I intend to make a submission to the Committee later this year.