Fallout from strawberry needle crisis

Tinaberries owner Tina McPherson is grateful for the community's support during the 2018 strawberry needle crisis. Picture: FILE

By Aaron Goodwin

Farmers have reacted and learnt lessons, after the case against the woman who is alleged to have sparked the country’s strawberry needle crisis back in 2018 has been dropped.

The discovery of needles in strawberries back in September 2018 created a frenzy of panic amongst the entire strawberry supply chain and consumers.

My Ut Trinh was charged with eight counts of contaminating of goods with intent to cause economic loss, following allegations she insrted needles into strawberries while working at a farm in southeast Queensland.

The case was dropped ahead of her trial, with the prosecutors determining they didn’t have the evidence to secure a conviction.

The discovery of the needles saw strawberries stripped from shelves and farmers forced to dump tonnes of the fruit during the peak of Queensland and New South Wales’ strawberry season.

Furthermore, the incident sparked hundreds of copycat cases at supermarkets across Australia of people caught on camera tampering with fruit.

Queensland Strawberry Growers’ Association (QSGA) president Adrian Schultz said that farmers are looking forward to the unique challenges of this season.

“Of course we are disappointed that there isn’t going to be formal closure for the industry on this matter, but we respect the judicial process and thank those who have been involved to bring this matter to its end,” Mr Schultz said.

“Like all fresh food producers, strawberry growers strive to ensure the quality, security and freshness of their produce and these spiteful incidents – compounded by thoughtless copycat behavior – were extremely disheartening.

”This year we are facing chronic shortages in seasonal labour and with such a short shelf-life strawberries absolutely can’t wait when they are ripe and ready to go.

”They must be picked almost daily or risk the fruit spoiling in the field.”

With the peak of the harvest starting in just a few weeks’ time the farmers are facing their biggest challenge yet – to attract thousands more workers who are prepared to give farm work a go between now and October.

Tinaberries owner Tina McPherson said that the copycat cases were a bloody nuisance.

”We didn’t have concerns about our fruit in particular but we were concerned about the fallout for the industry at a very busy time,” Ms McPherson said.

”It just meant things stayed in the headlines for far longer than was necessary.

”The government reaction to it was not exactly what we would have preferred.

”They were supportive of the industry financially but Dr Jeanette Young, who was the Chief Health Officer at the time, her advice was for people to stop buying strawberries.

”From an industry perspective that was disastrous, it was kind of like saying to people we are going into lockdown without any thought to the economic effects.”

Tinaberries spruing into action during the needle crisis and instead allocated more strawberries into their ice-cream range.

This in turn ramped up their ice-cream side of the business and forged today’s success.

”During the needle crisis it meant we had somewhere to turn with our strawberries, for the brief period where consumers didn’t want to touch them,” Ms McPherson said.

”That meant our ice-cream business has grown out of all proportion of what we imagined it to be.

”The real response was that locals were incredibly supportive, increased the amount of people buying from the farm.

”From that point of view it was fantastic, I couldn’t of asked for a more supportive response.”

”That happended not only in this region but all over Queensland.”