Ron Eustice I chatted June 25 with Ron Eustice, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Beef Council and author of the Food Irradiation Update monthly newsletter
1:00 p.m. Tom Karst: You recently said you will retire soon.
1:02 p.m. Ron Eustice: Yes, let’s call it transition. Technically I’m retiring in October, but I’m really transitioning because I’m going to continue to work on irradiation; I’ve got several opportunities. I will be an independent consultant in the food irradiation industry. What I want to do going forward is devote more time to moving food irradiation in a positive direction. You haven’t seen the last of me.
1:04 p.m. Karst: What will you be involved with?
1:05 p.m. Eustice: I (will) continue to publish the Food Irradiation Update, which has about 3,000 folks that receive it every month. It is the primary source, if not the only source, of information of what is happening with food irradiation around the world. I continue to be invited by various entities, national governments, conferences and others to speak at food irradiation events around the world. I’ve just come back from Korea, at the invitation of the Korean government for the third time in the past three years. Almost on a daily basis I’m getting inquiries about information on food irradiation all over the world.
1:07 p.m. Karst: Relative to irradiation for food, how do you see its arc over the past 15 years or so?
1:08 p.m. Eustice: It has grown, there is no question. It has grown and continues to grow. The major growth right is in the area of tropical produce coming from various countries around the world such as Mexico, India, Thailand, Vietnam and also the state of Hawaii. We have seen a 300% growth in the volume of irradiated produce that has come into the U.S. over the past three years. It is now something in the neighborhood of 35 million to 40 million pounds of produce, all of which has been marketed at retail without one consumer complaint that we know of. Consumer acceptance has been outstanding. In fact, I know of retailers who have said “We want to know who has the irradiated produce so we can put it in to our grocery stores.”
1:10 p.m. Karst: Is the produce irradiated at source or on arrival in the U.S.?
1:11 p.m. Eustice: Both. This is an interesting development. The USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service has signed framework equivalency agreements with ten countries and there are probably close to five more that are pending. Some of the countries are required to have USDA inspectors on site when the irradiation occurs. That is expensive and not every (inspector) wants to go to India in the middle of their hot summer. In Hawaii, there is a facility that has been irradiating about 10 million pounds per year for the past 10 to 12 years.
What is happening now is that there are two major facilities in Mexico that are irradiating guavas and mangoes in huge volumes. USDA has signed agreements to have local inspectors on site, and that works pretty well. So that volume has rapidly risen and Mexico is by far the largest supplier of tropical (irradiated) produce to the U.S. The guavas are irradiated and some of the mangoes are irradiated and there will be more in the future because these are good (irradiation) companies and highly efficient and very serious about irradiating tropical produce. There are two facilities that are being built. One is in Hawaii. There is another facility that is scheduled to go up in Gulfport, Mississippi. That will be a custom service provided for offshore countries that are not yet ready not build their own (irradiation) facilities and have smaller volumes but want to enter the U.S. market.