Nee­dle scan­dal wash-up

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - News - DAVID THOM­SON

IT HAS not been an easy pe­riod for the Aus­tralian hor­ti­cul­ture in­dus­try, with the straw­berry tam­per­ing cri­sis dom­i­nat­ing head­lines and po­lit­i­cal agen­das and caus­ing sig­nif­i­cant angst for grow­ers.

Queens­land Health con­tin­ues to main­tain that only three brands were af­fected and con­sumers can man­age the risk by cut­ting up straw­ber­ries.

Un­for­tu­nately this sim­ple mes­sage was overblown through a com­bi­na­tion of knee-jerk an­nounce­ments from of­fi­cials in other ju­ris­dic­tions who named an ad­di­tional three brands based on con­sumer re­ports and the sub­se­quent me­dia pile-on.

As a con­se­quence, some re­tail­ers re­moved the prod­uct from shelves and sent the sec­tor into a tail­spin with huge piles of straw­ber­ries be­ing dumped and grow­ers spray­ing out their crops.

On the more pos­i­tive side, the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment stepped up to the plate with the Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­ture, Chief Health Of­fi­cer and Po­lice Su­per­in­ten­dent ad­dress­ing a grower meet­ing last week. The fol­low­ing day the Queens­land Premier an­nounced a $1 mil­lion fund­ing pack­age for the in­dus­try, which was then matched by the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment, as it be­came ev­i­dent that this is­sue had im­pli­ca­tions be­yond straw­ber­ries and on our ex­port rep­u­ta­tion.

The in­dus­try has ap­peared on the To­day Show and Sun­rise, there have been farm vis­its by the Premier and Prime Min­is­ter and con­ver­sa­tions with the Fed­eral Op­po­si­tion Leader.

The grow­ers them­selves have been over­whelmed by the amaz­ing out­pour­ing of com­mu­nity sup­port for the in­dus­try, with ini­tia­tives such as the Ekka Sun­dae cam­paign co-or­di­nated by ABC Bris­bane cer­tainly im­prov­ing morale and straw­ber­ries run­ning out at many fruit shops and su­per­mar­kets.

That said, there is a strong sense of frus­tra­tion things even got to this point and a de­sire to en­sure that a rel­a­tively mi­nor pub­lic safety risk does not get blown out of pro­por­tion and bring a sec­tor to its knees.

On a prac­ti­cal level, Grow­com will be par­tic­i­pat­ing in an eval­u­a­tion of this event to iden­tify the crit­i­cal points where things went wrong and will be push­ing gov­ern­ment for clear, na­tion­ally agreed-upon com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­to­cols and cri­sis man­age­ment strate­gies.

❝There is a sense of frus­tra­tion things even got to this point and a de­sire to en­sure that a rel­a­tively mi­nor pub­lic safety risk does not get blown out of pro­por­tion.

PHOTO: LACHIE MIL­LARD

PEO­PLE POWER: The Ekka’s iconic straw­berry sun­daes were brought back to sup­port the straw­berry in­dus­try af­ter the food tam­per­ing scan­dal.

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