COMPANY FORMED IN HAWAII TO IRRADIATE FRUIT

ERIC THORSEN HILO, Hawaii -- Hawaii Pride, a newly formed company based here, is currently designing an irradiation treatment plant for fruit crops that officials say could improve the volume of exports.ically powered accelerator to convert electron beams into X-rays to zap the fruit, killing bacteria and other pathogens.According to a Titan press release, the system is designed to minimize the fruit

ERIC THORSEN HILO, Hawaii -- Hawaii Pride, a newly formed company based here, is currently designing an irradiation treatment plant for fruit crops that officials say could improve the volume of exports.

ically powered accelerator to convert electron beams into X-rays to zap the fruit, killing bacteria and other pathogens.

According to a Titan press release, the system is designed to minimize the fruit fly problem faced by Hawaiian farmers. Irradiation of fresh fruit and vegetables was approved by the federal government in 1986 to combat such infestation. The company claims it has done extensive testing using the device, logging more than 100,000 hours of continuous operation.

According to officials, irradiation will permit the island state to export unique tropical produce items, such as exotic varieties of papaya, lychee, rambutan, cherhoya and mangosteen.

Also contained in the same release was a prepared statement by Gene Ray, Titan's president and chief executive officer, who said that the system is so simple to use that it "basically plugs into a wall socket and can be turned on or off with a switch."

According to John Clark, principal co-owner of Hawaii Pride, the irradiation device will help make exportation of tropical fruit an inexpensive and simpler operation in a state quarantined because of the abundance of fruit flies.

"It's a more reliable and effective treatment than anything we have had available before," said Clark. "It's going to bring the cost down and make it extremely competitive with other fruits.

"Other methods have been used, but they're expensive and you have to actually pick the fruit green. By using X-ray machines we can actually pick the fruit ripe. The quality is far superior to what we have been able to produce. It's basically fresh-picked, treated and [shipped]."

At first, Clark said, the community had been opposed to such treatment methods. He said this slowed the building of treatment facilities that use irradiation. Since pesticides are ineffective in combating fruit flies, many farmers have continued to push for these alternative methods, he explained.

But, even though the irradiation plant has finally been approved, the community still has its doubts about irradiation.

"There are a lot people that are just opposed to a radioactive source being in their community," he said. "When they hear that word, 'irradiation,' they equate that to radioactive sources. It's electricity."

While opposed by residents, the facility is certainly welcomed by farmers, who've had to submit to strict state inspections, said Clark.

He said that, after getting through inspection, the process continued, as the fruit was then flown to plants in Chicago and other states, where it was off-loaded, trucked to a quarantine area, treated with fumicides, back-loaded and finally distributed to supermarkets.

Now, with the advent of an irradiation plant, Clark explained that shipping produce to the mainland will become significantly simplified because the fruit can be sterilized and packaged all in one location.

Under the new procedure involving irradiation, the produce arriving at the facility will be loaded directly onto a conveyor system that runs through a shielded area, through the X-ray beam. The sterilized fruit will then enter a quarantined area, where it will be packaged, put on an airplane and shipped out.

"Now that we have a treatment and an export market available to us, farmers are plugging trees into the ground like you wouldn't believe in anticipation of this," he said, noting that 1 million pounds of fruit are grown on the island per year.