The Queensland strawberry industry is calling for calm and common sense in the aftermath of the tampering crisis as overblown media feeds a nationwide scare.
Queensland Strawberry Industry Officer Jennifer Rowling said that while the industry is absolutely committed to consumer safety, mishandling of the issue by some authoritative spokespeople, coupled with high profile and sometimes hysterical media, has damaged the industry and cost growers millions of dollars.
“Fundamentally we are looking at a very small number of cases of actual tampering related to just three brands; all other reported cases have either been copycats or unsubstantiated claims,” Ms Rowling said.
"This issue has attracted attention as far away as Russia and the UK, and as a result a number of our trade partners have either already blocked Australian strawberry imports or are talking about doing so.
"It should be acknowledged that much of the damaging commentary did not come from Queensland and we call on other state agencies to commit to supporting the industry and closely examine their own crisis communication processes.
"To put this issue in context, the industry produces around 800,000 punnets per day and, apart from the original incident ten days ago where a consumer sought medical assistance, needles have been confirmed in only a small number of punnets, resulting in instructions by Queensland Health to withdraw three brands from sale.
"The advice to cut open all strawberries prior to consumption still remains."
The Queensland strawberry industry welcomes the commitment from the Queensland government for a million dollars to address this issue and to improve traceability through the whole fresh food supply chain.
Individual growers have already implemented a number of safety measures to minimise the risk of tampering and are working with the rest of the supply chain including major supermarkets and independent retailers to investigate the most effective approach to providing ongoing certainty about the safety of strawberries.
Rachel Mackenzie from the peak horticulture body Growcom said that reported incidents with other fruit meant the issue had gone beyond strawberries and demonstrated how important working together and clear communication was to protect our agricultural industries both here and internationally.
"The poor coordination of the handling of this matter between the state authorities and overly emotional messages has effectively wiped out a significant sector of farming during peak season for what was effectively a very minor public health risk," Ms Mackenzie said.
"We cannot let this happen again and we will be working with all levels of government across jurisdictions to ensure that systems and processes are put in place to not only best manage risk to the public, but reduce unnecessary threats to the livelihood of farmers and their families."
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