Devastating Cost Of Strawberry Tampering Crisis Finally Revealed
In September last year, a wave of strawberry contaminations swept across the country as punnet after punnet of the fruit was found with needles.
Desperate farmers were filmed dumping tonnes of strawberries as supermarkets pulled a number of brands off shelves and fearful customers stopped buying them.
The contamination saga originated in Queensland after a man allegedly swallowed an affected berry, but soon after hundreds more cases emerged spreading to other states including Victoria and NSW.
The financial impact of the entire affair has been revealed.
Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner has confirmed $12 million has been wiped from the farm gate value of the fruit across the state, totalling an 8 percent drop from last year to $146 million.
Nearly half (42 percent) of strawberries around the country come from Queensland, Furner told reporters on Tuesday.
Furner called for support for farmers in the wake of the contamination saga, describing it as "particularly difficult times" for the industry.
He said the damage to the industry has been "significant" but claimed it was fortunate the sabotage only occurred in the last two to three weeks of the season, meaning a lot of the damage was contained.
But he said that was not enough to save some farmers, most of whom were uninsured, who had been forced to close their doors as demand plummeted.
Furner also praised those farmers who had implemented safety measures to protect their business, such as the introduction of scanners.
"They've made proactive moves to ensure they are, as an industry, using the best and safest methods," he said.
"There's an ample supply of good quality strawberries that are on the future market."
The Queensland Government has provided more than $1 million in funding to assist strawberry growers wanting to invest in additional on-farm assurance equipment, while an additional $600,000 would be used for a marketing plan ahead of the new season.
The government recently launched the #eatqld campaign encouraging Aussies to share pictures of their Queensland produce on social media.
In late September, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources announced a $350,000 new program to restore confidence in Australian strawberries and ensure local produce is safe to eat.
A 50-year-old former strawberry farm supervisor was arrested and charged with seven counts of contamination of goods. Her case is still before the courts.
Featured Image: Facebook via Stephanie Chheang