Sab­o­tage threat­ens to kill off ven­ture

Farmer reels from losses

Sunshine Coast Daily - - NEWS - PA­TRICK BILLINGS

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

Sunshine Coast farmer Kevin Tran faces los­ing ev­ery­thing af­ter sewing nee­dles were planted in his straw­ber­ries which led to a prod­uct re­call.

“I threw away 40 tonnes of picked fruit, al­ready in the trays. I just dumped it,” he told The Courier-Mail.

“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 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 dur­ing har­vest time.

But a 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 needle­tam­per­ing scan­dal in early Septem­ber.

A third un­re­lated brand, at Don­ny­brook, was pulled from shelves soon af­ter. Up to six brands would go on to be af­fected across the coun­try.

Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son 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 em­p­came


ty 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 to un­sub­stan­ti­ated ru­mours, panned by po­lice, that he him­self was some­how in­volved.

“I built up my busi­ness from scratch.

“I sold my house to get the money to open the farm. And then I go and ruin all that?

“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.”

Mr Tran gave him­self a “50/ 50” chance of stay­ing in busi­ness.

“I don’t want to give the per­son who did this the sat­is­fac­tion of win­ning,” he said.

Queens­land Po­lice, which at one stage had up to 60 de­tec­tives on the case, said in­ves­ti­ga­tions were on­go­ing.

Photo: Lachie Mil­lard

COUNT­ING THE COST: Wa­mu­ran straw­berry farmer Kevin Tran is not sure if his busi­ness will be able to sur­vive af­ter his Berry Ob­ses­sion and Ber­ry­li­cious brands be­came the cen­tre of the straw­berry nee­dle con­tam­i­na­tion cri­sis.

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