Straw­berry grow­ers need aid

Calls for com­pen­sa­tion as nee­dle scare hits farm­ers

The Courier-Mail - - NEWS - JACK MCKAY JANELLE MILES PA­TRICK BILLINGS

OP­PO­SI­TION Leader Deb Freck­ling­ton has called for a State Gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance pack­age for Queens­land straw­berry grow­ers as po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions con­tinue into the nee­dle con­tam­i­na­tion scare.

Ms Freck­ling­ton said she was con­cerned about the crip­pling ef­fect of the scare on the in­dus­try.

“I would be hop­ing the Gov­ern­ment has some plan to put some­thing in place to help as­sist our straw­berry farm­ers go­ing for­ward,” she said. “I don’t think an as­sis­tance pack­age would be out of the realm of pos­si­bil­ity.”

Ms Freck­ling­ton’s call came as Agri­cul­tural In­dus­try De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Mark Furner met with grower rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the Sun­shine Coast yes­ter­day.

“The Gov­ern­ment will con­sider the next steps on the ba­sis of those meet­ings,” a spokesman for Premier An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk said.

The Gov­ern­ment has al­ready an­nounced a $100,000 re­ward for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to the ar­rest and con­vic­tion of any­one re­spon­si­ble for the straw­berry con­tam­i­na­tion. Most of the es­ti­mated 80 straw­berry farms in Queens­land are in the Sun­shine Coast, Bund­aberg and Moreton Bay re­gions.

Some stores were of­fload­ing the fruit for as lit­tle as 25¢ a pun­net at the week­end. Sab­o­taged pun­nets have been re­ported as far north as Townsville, and as far south as Victoria. Last night South Aus­tralia con­firmed it’s first case last night af­ter an Ade­laide Hills res­i­dent found a nee­dle in a pun­net of Mal’s Black La­bel straw­ber­ries pro­duced in Gin­gin in WA. South Aus­tralian Po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing. There were no in­juries.

Health au­thor­i­ties are re­luc­tant to de­tail num­bers and lo­ca­tions of spiked straw­ber­ries, fear­ing this may en­cour­age copy­cats.

“All re­ports of con­tam­i­na­tions are be­ing fully in­ves­ti­gated, but no other brands are be­ing with­drawn at this time,” Queens­land’s chief health of­fi­cer Dr Jeannette Young said. “If you still have Berry Li­cious, Berry Ob­ses­sion and Donny-brook-branded straw­ber­ries at home you should re­turn them to the store or throw them away. For all other brands, our ad­vice re­mains. If in doubt, throw them out … (or) make sure you chop be­fore you chomp.”

Queens­land Straw­berry Grow­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion spokes­woman Jen­nifer Rowl­ing said the pub­lic could help straw­berry pro­duc­ers by con­tin­u­ing to buy the fruit.

Cham­bers Flat Straw­berry Farm owner Laura Hen­drik­sen said grow­ers were do­ing it tough and needed cun­sumers’ sup­port.

PEAK: Laura Hen­drik­sen at her Cham­bers Flat farm. Pic­ture: AAP/Ric Frear­son

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