It has not been an easy period for the Australian horticulture industry with the strawberry tampering crisis dominating headlines and political agendas and causing significant angst for growers.
by Growcom CEO David Thomson
Queensland health continues to maintain that only three brands were affected and that consumers can manage the risk by cutting the strawberries up.
Unfortunately this simple message was overblown through a combination of knee-jerk announcements from officials in other jurisdictions who named an additional three brands based on consumer reports and the subsequent media pile-on.
As a consequence, some retailers removed the product from the shelves and sent the sector into a tailspin with huge piles of strawberries being dumped and growers spraying out their crops.
On the more positive side, the Queensland government stepped up to the plate with the Minister for Agriculture, the Chief Health Officer and the Police Superintendent addressing a grower meeting held last week.
The following day the Queensland Premier announced a $1million funding package for the industry which was then matched by the Australian government, as it became evident that this issue had implications beyond strawberries and on our export reputation.
The industry has appeared on the Today show and Sunrise, there have been farm visits by the Premier and Prime Minister and conversations with the Federal leader of the opposition.
The growers themselves have been overwhelmed by the amazing outpouring of community support for the industry, with initiatives such as the Ekka Sundae campaign coordinated by ABC Brisbane certainly improving morale and strawberries running out at many fruit shops and supermarkets.
That said, there is a strong sense of frustration that things even got to this point and a desire to ensure that a relatively minor public safety risk does not get blown out of proportion and bring a sector to its knees.
On a practical level, Growcom will be participating in an evaluation of this event to identify the critical points where things went wrong and will be pushing government for clear, nationally agreed communication protocols and crisis management strategies.