Unless you've been living under a rock, it's impossible to have missed the pins in fruit scare, which has severely impacted the strawberry farming industry. While social media initially fueled the Nation's fear due to fake images of pins in strawberries being posted, the Internet is now alive with people showing their support for affected farmers.
This cruel sabotage comes during one of the toughest periods for drought affected farmers, with Strawberry farmers now subject to a national crisis with every State affected and multiple incidents reported across Australia.
In an effort to locate the individuals responsible for this harmful behaviour, State Governments have offered $100,000 for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators. To reduce the likelihood of future incidents and bring those in the wrong to justice, the Australian Government has raised the prison sentence for fruit tampering from 10 to 15 years imprisonment. This however has not deterred the people involved in the acts, or those trying to benefit through putting in false claims.
Since the original incident occurred early September, Australia has since seen copycats emerging with contaminated fruit continuing to be discovered. Police are currently working on investigations in all six states including Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania to find suspects. In total there's been over 100 alleged cases of needles in fruit, which is not just limited to strawberries but extends to bananas, apples and even mangoes.
False claims are also being uncovered, including a 34-year-old father from Adelaide who reported his daughter swallowing a pin after eating a strawberry. The man in question has since been arrested as his story was discovered to be entirely fabricated when analysed by detectives.
When a Brisbane man in his early twenties was rushed to hospital after swallowing a pin, the issue was host to a great deal of media attention due to the malicious intent of the sabotage. The nation was shocked by the attack and alarmed at the risk eating strawberries now posed. As more needles were discovered in popular strawberry brands, major supermarket chains had no choice but to withdraw the product entirely in an effort to prevent any further injuries occurring.
Strawberry sales ceased abruptly and farmers were left with a backlog of quality produce unable to be sold due to falling demand. Many consumers lost confidence entirely, with some Queensland farmers reporting 90% of produce being unsaleable due to people being hesitant to buy strawberries. With prices dropping considerably, farmers have been losing thousands in fallen sales; especially considering Spring is one of their highest production seasons when sales usually strengthen.
To provide some respite to farmers and reduce the impact on the industry, Australian supermarkets have resumed strawberry sales, asking that consumers slice them up before eating. The reality is that it's going to take some time before consumer confidence returns entirely, and even more so for the international markets that are less forgiving. In New Zealand, pins were also discovered in Australian strawberries, which have been banned from shelves, further tarnishing the industry.
In efforts to resume trade, metal detectors are being installed by farmers as a new regulation to ensure strawberries are safe and do not contain any foreign matter. With many local farmers having faced the heartbreaking task of being forced to dump strawberries after orders were cancelled, the added expense of this technology is another burden, however required for producers to continue operating.
There is always a silver lining to any situation, with fundraisers popping up in almost every city across the country in support of Australian farmers who are in hardship due to the pins in strawberry crisis. A recent Brisbane event saw more than 10,000 freshly made strawberry sundaes sold, and social media has gone wild with viral posts being shared on Facebook to promote consumption, with hashtags like #SmashaStrawb and people's favourite strawberry recipes being posted to inspire others.
Strawberry farms throughout Australia are also experiencing high demand for "pick-your-own", with families turning up to show their support arriving at farms by the carload. With the school holidays coinciding with the incident it's proving a wonderful activity for kids to enjoy the outdoors and learn about where their food comes from. Supermarket sales of strawberries have also skyrocketed, with some stores selling out entirely and working as fast as they can to restock shelves.
On top of this, there are numerous crowd sourcing pages being used to raise funds along with many independent events contributing towards the cause. While the Australian public has been focused on supporting drought-stricken farmers, we've proven there's still more for us to give as a nation and the country is doing what they can to ensure our strawberry industry can be sustained into the future.
There's much to be learnt for both farmers and consumers from the pins in strawberry scare. With the majority of food we consume being grown locally, it's not only vital to the financial and economic health of our country, but to our social and physical well-being, that we can trust what we are purchasing is safe. For consumers, it's a fine balance between being aware of what we're eating without succumbing to the hype on social media and playing into the hands of attention seeking criminals.
Equally, farmers shouldn't underestimate the threat of fruit tampering in the future, with metal detector technology and other precautionary measures necessary being essential to restore the public's faith and protect trade. Moreover, we've been reminded that despite the malice of a few or whatever comes our way, Australia stands by its farmers. As a country we're passionate about supporting local production, to ensure that our food industry stands strong in the face of crisis.
About the Author - Mark Edwards
At Murray Nankivell, we're about helping farmers and rural Australians and businesses succeed financially, and in all areas of their life and business.
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