Lo­cal straw­berry farm­ers anx­ious

CHB Mail - - Tuki Talk -

In­ci­dents of nee­dles in straw­ber­ries in Aus­tralia have prompted some Kiwi straw­berry farm­ers to look at buy­ing metal de­tec­tors.

The move comes after pun­nets in var­i­ous parts of Aus­tralia were found with tiny nee­dles in­serted into the fruit.

And it seems the con­tam­i­nated Choice branded ber­ries have reached New Zealand shores with Count­down an­nounc­ing this week a pun­net of straw­ber­ries sold at an Auck­land store had nee­dles in it.

The chain ad­vised cus­tomers to cut up the ber­ries be­fore eat­ing them as a pre­cau­tion, of­fered to re­fund cus­tomers who had bought that brand of straw­ber­ries and said it would with­draw the brand from its shelves. Straw­berry Grow­ers NZ said although the af­fected ber­ries were from Aus­tralia, farm­ers here were be­com­ing con­cerned. Some were now look­ing at adding metal de­tec­tors to their pro­duc­tion line.

“Some of our guys, like a week or so ago, have al­ready been hunt­ing for metal de­tec­tors,” ex­ec­u­tive man­ager Michael Ah­ern said. “But we’ve got to ap­pre­ci­ate this is all from a stand­ing start. You can’t go down to The Ware­house and buy one of these things. We’re not ac­cus­tomed to this type of chal­lenge to our fruit safety sys­tems.”

About 80 grow­ers were as­so­ci­ated with the vol­un­teer in­dus­try group but there were about 150 straw­berry farm­ers na­tion­wide, not in­clud­ing many smaller busi­nesses.

Ah­ern said it was im­por­tant to un­der­stand that a lot of straw­berry sales in New Zealand were on a per­sonal and in­ti­mate level — with sales be­ing car­ried out at farm­ers’ mar­kets and lo­cal ar­eas within com­mu­ni­ties.

With the sea­son and crop ready in a mat­ter of about two weeks, he said grow­ers were hop­ing the pub­lic would con­tinue to buy the much-loved fruit.

“What re­ally is the ques­tion is would con­sumers be put off by what they’re hear­ing, I guess. And so far not. It’s early days, but so far not. I’m not too ca­sual about it ei­ther,” he said.

“We’re very wor­ried. There’s a lot of money on the line, it’s a sea­sonal busi­ness and I guess we’re just try­ing to man­age the un­known.”

The Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries is now also in­volved in in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Count­down has re­vealed a pun­net of straw­ber­ries sold at an Auck­land store had nee­dles in it.

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