Mi­grant berry farmer tells of sab­o­tage hell

Mercury (Hobart) - - NEWSFRONT - PA­TRICK BILLINGS

A QUEENS­LAND straw­berry grower fac­ing fi­nan­cial ruin from nee­dle sab­o­tage has spo­ken of his dev­as­ta­tion at the snow­balling events that rocked the na­tion.

More­ton Bay re­gion farmer Kevin Tran faces los­ing ev­ery­thing af­ter sewing nee­dles were put in his straw­ber­ries and led to a prod­uct re­call.

“I threw away 40 tonnes of picked fruit, al­ready in the trays. I just dumped it,” he said.

“I’ve lost prob­a­bly close to maybe half a mil­lion dollars.

“It’s tak­ing its toll on the fam­ily, es­pe­cially my kids. They ask, ‘why is Daddy sad all the time?’ ”

Born in Viet­nam, Mr Tran came to Aus­tralia as a refugee and worked as a fruit picker un­til he saved enough to start his own farm in Wa­mu­ran.

From pick­ing and pack­ing the straw­ber­ries them­selves, Mr Tran and his busi­ness part­ner have ex­panded into a 100per­son op­er­a­tion at har­vest.

But this mi­grant suc­cess story has turned tragic be­cause of crip­pling debt, no in­come, no pay­out and no an­swers as to why he was tar­geted. Mr Tran’s straw­ber­ries, sold un­der the la­bels Berry Ob­ses­sion and Berry Li­cious, were the first to be hit by the nee­dle-tam­per­ing scan­dal in early Septem­ber.

A third, un­re­lated brand at nearby Don­ny­brook was pulled from shelves soon af­ter. Six brands would be af­fected across the coun­try.

Prime Min­is­ter Scott Morri- son tough­ened penal­ties for food ter­ror­ism and the Queens­land Govern­ment put up a $1 mil­lion in­dus­try res­cue pack­age. But the re­sponse was of lit­tle con­so­la­tion to Mr Tran.

In­stead of pack­ing “20 to 30 pal­lets a day” he sits in an empty pack­ing shed, won­der­ing why was he tar­geted and how to pick up the pieces.

“We don’t know who did it. There’s no de­mands, there’s no ran­som, there’s no threat, there’s no noth­ing,” he said.

“To do some­thing like that, you could kill some­body. A lit­tle kid could eat it. That’s just wrong. I can’t even imag­ine some­one think­ing about do­ing that. It’s be­yond me.”

He re­acted an­grily mours he was in­volved.

“I built my busi­ness up from scratch. I sold my house to get the money to open the farm. And then I go and ruin all that?” he said. “For some­one to think I did it, that’s just crazy. What could I get? There’s no pay­out, there’s no in­come pro­tec­tion. The only cover I have is pub­lic li­a­bil­ity.” to ru-

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