“I see that moving slowly until the FDA broadens their approvals into other leafy greens,” she said.
Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, also noticed the lack of demand for irradiated fruits and vegetables, and said there are concerns about the potential of increased costs.
“I don’t think there’s a compelling consumer desire for these products. We have not seen a hue and cry from consumers to bring on irradiated leafy greens,” she said. “You probably won’t find any irradiated produce in mainstream supermarkets.”
Starns said he’s undeterred by obstacles to greater irradiation acceptance. As older technologies are phased out and public acceptance grows, Starns foresees the U.S. irradiated food market generating more than $1 billion in revenue a year.
“Once consumers understand that the electron beam technology used to treat the foods is safe, approved and does not use harsh chemicals, toxins, or leave any residue, they will demand this type of quality,” Starns said.
“This irradiation technology ensures the global food supply remains safe and provides superior quality,” he said.
The biggest hurdles for irradiation, said Ron Eustice, an industry consultant, involve “misinformation propogated by anti-technology groups.”
“It’s very clear that with a little bit of information, consumer acceptance is very high” for irradiated food, Eustice said.
Bruhn sees growth opportunities in the U.S. for exotic fruits, such as irradiated mangoes from India and Thailand that have been approved for import. Last year, irradiated guavas were approved for import from Mexico.
Starns said part of ScanTech’s appeal is expediency. The company’s system can treat crates of fruits and vegetables in seconds, Starns said.
For mangoes, a 20-ton truckload from Mexico would need a 90-minute hot water bath followed by a four-hour cool down before the fruit can be shipped into the U.S. ScanTech’s system could treat the same truckload in less than an hour, Starns said.
The U.S. imported $5.83 billion worth of fruits and vegetables from Mexico in 2009, up 35% from $4.31 billion in 2005, according to Foreign Agriculture Service data.
ScanTech hasn’t yet decided specifically where it will build its first irradiation facility, though it’s likely it will be in Mexico near Texas border cities such as Laredo or McAllen, Starns said.