Strawberry crisis: ‘No ransom, no nothing’
A STRAWBERRY grower facing financial ruin from needle sabotage has spoken of his devastation at the snowballing events that rocked the nation.
Sunshine Coast farmer Kevin Tran faces losing everything after sewing needles were planted in his strawberries, leading to a product recall.
"I threw away 40 tonnes of picked fruit, already in the trays. I just dumped it," he said.
"I've lost probably close to maybe half a million dollars.
"It's taking its toll on the family, especially my kids. They ask, why is daddy sad all the time?"
Born in Vietnam, Mr Tran came to Australia as a refugee and worked as a fruit picker until he saved enough to start his own farm at Wamuran.
From picking and packing the strawberries themselves, Mr Tran and his business partner have expanded into a 100-person operation during harvest time.
But a migrant success story has turned tragic, because of crippling debt, no income, no payout and no answers as to why he was targeted.
Mr Tran's strawberries, sold under the labels Berry Obsession and Berry Licious, were the first to be hit by the needle-tampering scandal in early September.
A third unrelated brand, at Donnybrook, was pulled from shelves soon after.
Up to six brands were affected across the country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison toughened penalties for food "terrorism" and the Queensland Government put up a $1 million industry rescue package.
But the response was of little consolation to Mr Tran.
Instead of packing 20 to 30 pallets a day, he sits in an empty packing shed, wondering why he was targeted and how to pick up the pieces.
"We don't know who did it. There's no demands, there's no ransom, there's no threat, there's no nothing," he said.
"To do something like that, you could kill somebody. A little kid could eat it. That's just wrong. I can't even imagine someone thinking about doing that. It's beyond me."
He reacted angrily to unsubstantiated rumours, panned by police, that he himself was somehow involved.
"I built up my business up from scratch. I sold my house to get the money to open the farm. And then I go and ruin all that?" he said.
"For someone to think I did it that's just crazy. What could I get?
"There's no payout, there's no income protection. The only cover I have is public liability."
Mr Tran gave himself a "50/50" chance of staying in business.
"I don't want to give the person who did this the satisfaction of winning," he said.
Queensland police, which at one stage had up to 60 detectives on the case, said investigations were ongoing.