Berry growers suspect a hoax
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