Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner has met with strawberry growers nervous about their future as the number of needle contamination cases grows to 10 and New Zealand food distributors remove Australian strawberries from their shelves.
Vice-president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, Adrian Schultz, says what started with a single “act of commercial terrorism” has now brought a multi-million dollar industry to its knees, with jobs beyond the growers now likely to be lost.
“I’m angry for all the associated people, it’s the farmers, the people who supply them, the packaging people, the truckies with families to support, who suddenly lose their jobs … it’s far-reaching,” he told ABC radio on Monday.
Growers met with Mr Furner on Sunday to discuss the commercial effects of the contamination that began at a southeast Queensland farm eight days ago.
Mr Furner says industry-specific assistance packages are being considered but no plan will be made until an understanding of the “complete effect” of the sabotage is understood.
“We won’t be coming up with any half-baked outcomes … we need to listen to what is required,” he said.
There are around 150 commercial strawberry growers in Queensland.
Mr Furner said a variety of generic government assistance packages were available and these would be offered to growers.
He said many growers were already experiencing economic stresses before the contamination began due to an oversupply of fruit, which had led to retail prices for punnets falling to around $1.50 each.