Berry grow­ers sus­pect a hoax

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - NEWS - ANNIKA SMETHURST

NA­TIONAL POL­I­TICS EDI­TOR STRAW­BERRY grow­ers have ques­tioned whether any fruit was ac­tu­ally sab­o­taged or whether the con­tam­i­na­tion cri­sis that swept the na­tion in Septem­ber was all a big hoax.

De­spite a Fed­eral Govern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion, beefed-up penal­ties, and sev­eral po­lice probes, no one has been charged with con­tam­i­nat­ing fruit.

Af­ter more than 100 re­ports of con­tam­i­nated fruit, po­lice have only laid charges against one man, from South Aus­tralia, for al­legedly mak­ing a false claim that his daugh­ter ate a con­tam­i­nated straw­berry.

On Fri­day, sharp ob­jects were found in straw­ber­ries in the Ade­laide sub­urb of Sal­is­bury and in South Aus­tralia’s Clare Val­ley.

But grower Mandy Schultz, whose hus­band Adrian is vi­cepres­i­dent of the Queens­land Straw­berry Grow­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, told The Sun­day Mail quality as­sur­ance mech­a­nisms at farms meant the pick­ers and pack­ers of each straw­berry could be iden­ti­fied.

“This did not hap­pen at a far­m­gate level,” Ms Schultz said of the con­tam­i­na­tion. “We have all got such strong quality as­sur­ance mea­sures, I am not even al­lowed to have a sta­pler on site.”

Ms Schultz ques­tioned why po­lice had been un­able to find a culprit, and sug­gested that it could have been a me­dia-driven hoax.

“Th­ese peo­ple that posted con­tam­i­nated fruit on­line, why didn’t they go to au­thor­i­ties first?

“Peo­ple think it’s fun, but they don’t un­der­stand the im­pact of what they have done.”

Po­lice told The Sun­day Mail they were taking the con­tam­i­na­tion se­ri­ously and were con­tin­u­ing to in­ves­ti­gate all re­ported cases.

But one po­lice source said au­thor­i­ties be­lieved the “vast ma­jor­ity of cases” were hoaxes and that they were fo­cus­ing on just a hand­ful, which they be­lieve might be linked to a dis­grun­tled em­ployee.

Ms Schultz thanked the me­dia and Govern­ment for en­cour­ag­ing Aus­tralians to eat straw­ber­ries, say­ing there had been a pos­i­tive out­come. She also wel­comed tougher laws that were rushed through Par­lia­ment in the wake of the saga

Queens­land Po­lice are lead­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter af­fected pun­nets were found across the coun­try.

Po­lice in Tas­ma­nia and Queens­land con­firmed they were con­tin­u­ing to in­ves­ti­gate a num­ber of re­ports of con­tam­i­nated fruit but no charges had been laid.

In Septem­ber, Fed­eral Health Min­is­ter Greg Hunt or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the scan­dal and Par­lia­ment passed new laws in­creas­ing the max­i­mum jail time for con­tam­i­nat­ing food from 10 to 15 years. so­cial

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