Paul McMahon at McMahon Farms outside Stanthorpe, ready to harvest his organic strawberry crop. Picture: Nigel Hallett
Paul McMahon at McMahon Farms outside Stanthorpe, ready to harvest his organic strawberry crop. Picture: Nigel Hallett

The ‘real culprits’ in strawberry sabotage

THE needle crisis that nearly brought Queensland's strawberry industry to its knees was driven by social media, and criminal charges should be brought against those responsible, the peak growing body says.

As strawberry sales start returning to normal after the September sabotage saga, key industry figures say the digital age proved how quickly threats to food and production supplies could be inflated.

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"The quality, integrity and freshness of local strawberries was never an issue," Queensland Strawberry Growers Association's Jennifer Rowling said.

"It's now obvious the issue was tampering with packed fruit, most likely after purchase.

"It was a crisis driven by social media, and the only real victims were the growers, and the global reputation of Australian fruit and produce."

Queensland police are still investigating the source of the needle contamination.

Agriculture Minister Mark Furner, who addressed the Rural Press Club last week, said he was confident Queensland had the capabilities, resources and professionalism to contain any biosecurity outbreak.

"But you won't stop lunatics… people putting needles in strawberries and repeat offenders are putting needles in apples and mangoes," he said.

"Now those sort of crazy events we need to nail down hard on those particular people, should we catch them."

Ms Rowling said customers, at the height of the sabotage crisis, recognised there was no major issue with the fruit, and showed their support by showing up at the farmgate and backing farmers.

She said growers were now either focused on getting their current harvest to market or planning for next season.

"Controlling bad public behaviour, including product tampering, is a challenge beyond the control of farmers," she said.

"People who make claims of tampering via social media instead of contacting the authorities are questionable and should be brought to account.

"If the claims are false, attention seeking or attempting to gain financial advantage, they should face criminal charges."