The process of food irradiation won approval yesterday from the Australia New Zealand Food Authority, as the watchdog agreed “this application will bring significant benefits to consumers, industry and government”.

ANZFA released for comment its recommendation that irradiated herbs and spices are “safe to consume”. If the draft is adopted by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council, all approved irradiation facilities will be able to treat foods using ionising radiation from gamma rays, X-rays or electrons.

The first trial of the process is now expected to go ahead at a Steritech plant in Narangba, where nearby residents are bitterly opposed to the process. Suzi Tooke, spokeswoman for the Narangba Community Progress Association, said: “I don’t want a nuclear industry in Queensland, let alone in my backyard.”

General manager of Steritech, George West, stressed however that irradiation is a safe and effective method of making food safe by destroying insects, moulds or yeasts, preventing sprouting and slowing down the ripening process.

Over 42 other countries use the treatment, he said, and clear labelling will allow consumers to avoid irradiated foods if they opposed the process.