Wav­ing a white flag in a crisis ADF aban­dons straw­ber­ries

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - BEN PIKE

THEY are trained in war­fare, its lethal weapons and per­ilous tac­tics but the Aus­tralian De­fence Force ap­pears scared of the humble straw­berry.

While Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son was urg­ing Aus­tralians to sup­port the straw­berry in­dus­try, dec­i­mated by sab­o­tage, by cut­ting up the berries if they were wor­ried about se­creted pins, the ADF sim­ply stopped buy­ing straw­ber­ries.

It has come un­der fire from grow­ers and a prom­i­nent for­mer sol­dier, af­ter its cater­ing con­trac­tors halted pur­chases from strug­gling farm­ers for two weeks as a “risk as­sess­ment” was con­ducted.

The ADF, which buys about eight tonnes of the straw­ber­ries a year, only started buy­ing them again this week, fi­nally fol­low­ing the PM’s ad­vice to cut them up.

“Based on prod­uct re­call in­for­ma­tion, con­trac­tors ini­tially paused straw­berry or­ders and con­ducted a risk as­sess­ment,” an ADF spokesman told The Sun­day Tele­graph.

“Fol­low­ing that risk as­sess­ment, con­trac­tors ex­pect to re­sume or­der­ing straw­ber­ries this week. ADF cater­ing staff have mit­i­gated the risk by en­sur­ing straw­ber­ries are cut be­fore con­sump­tion.”

The tem­po­rary ban on pur­chases for the navy, army and air force has an­gered straw­berry grow­ers who have been forced to dump tonnes of pro­duce as more than 200 cases of adul­ter­ation are in­ves­ti­gated.

Po­lice be­lieve the ma­jor­ity of con­tam­i­na­tions, which orig- inated in Queens­land, are the work of copy­cats.

Queens­land straw­berry grower Tina McPherson, who sells most of her prod­uct to high-end NSW re­tail­ers, said part of her busi­ness has been “de­stroyed” by the crisis.

“It seems ab­surd that the ADF can dif­fuse a bomb but they can’t cut up a straw­berry,” Mrs McPherson said.

“Our politi­cians are say­ing ‘cut them up don’t cut them out’ yet the ADF are do­ing a risk as­sess­ment on con­sump­tion. There is a cer­tain irony in that.”

For­mer army sergeant An­drew Street, who served more than 70 mis­sions in Iraq, was one of two Aus­tralian sol­diers at­tached to a se­cret mil­i­tary unit that in­spired the Hol­ly­wood movie The Hurt Locker.

“It’s a clas­sic ex­am­ple of se­nior of­fi­cers and the plague of ‘ force pro­tec­tion’ that has led to Aussie sol­diers be­ing con­sid­ered to be wrapped in cot­ton wool,” he said.

“Can’t eat straw­ber­ries, can’t com­plete as­sault cour­ses (jump­ing across sand­pits and high walls now banned) and won’t de­ploy any­thing but spe­cial forces into war fight­ing roles when other coun­tries send reg­u­lar troops.”

Queens­land Po­lice said 100 de­tec­tives from the State Crime Com­mand have fol­lowed up 600 lines of in­quiry.

Grower Tina McPherson.

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