The Queensland government has given its financial support behind the state’s crisis-hit strawberry farmers after the needle contamination scare brought the industry to its knees.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced $1 million to: promote the quality of Queensland grown strawberries, look at ways to boost integrity in the supply chain and help growers throughout the rest of the season.
“The sabotage of our strawberry industry is not just an attack on hard-working growers and workers, but it reaches into almost every home and school lunch box,” she told parliament on Tuesday.
“The community needs to come together and help police catch those responsible and restore our industry to the place of pride it deserves.”
Queensland’s 150 strawberry farmers produce 60 million punnets of the fruit a year worth $160 million.
At least one grower will install metal detectors to check his produce as the industry deals with the fallout from the discovery of sewing needles in punnets of the fruit.
Glass House Mountains farmer Leonard Smith said the safety measure would cost him about $30,000, but would hopefully get the rest of this season’s fruit back on supermarket shelves.
However, he said the detectors wouldn’t work if the contamination was occurring offsite.
Smith’s farm was forced to burn off 500,000 unsellable plants on the weekend as it was cheaper to destroy them than pick them.
He said other growers were being forced to do the same, with others cutting back on staff because of the nationwide strawberry contamination scare.
One farmer from the Atherton Tablelands says he’s had to lay off 15 employees while his business tries to bounce back.
But he says locals in the region are rallying to help farmers by buying fruit at the farm gate.
“Since it started the public support here at the farm is brilliant. They’ve gone out of their way to come up and actually buy here,” he told ABC radio.
Needles have been found in strawberries in all six states, with New Zealand announcing this week it would also pull the Australian-grown fruit from its supermarket shelves.
A health warning to throw out or cut up strawberries remains in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
Queensland Strawberry Growers Association vice president Adrian Schultz said “commercial terrorism” was bringing an industry to its knees.
Queensland Police’s investigation into the contamination was further complicated when a 62-year-old woman was caught sticking a needle into a banana in a shop in Mackay, in an apparent copycat act.
The woman, who is understood to have mental health issues, was given a warning and referred to appropriate support services.