The South Australian government will provide $50,000 to support local strawberry producers with Premier Steven Marshall lashing the “cowardly acts of industry sabotage” by those involved in the needle contamination scare.
The funds will be used to allow the SA Produce Market to install a metal detector to help boost consumer confidence in the strawberry industry with the local growing season just weeks away.
It comes after the industry nationwide was thrown into turmoil when sewing needles were found pushed into strawberries, prompting the federal government to ramp up penalties for so-called “food terrorists”.
“It was only about four weeks ago that people were pretty concerned about the implications of these cowardly acts of industry sabotage,” Mr Marshall told reporters on Thursday.
“The industry is optimistic about the current wave of support from consumers buying strawberries.
“We want to make sure this demand continues when local strawberries start hitting the shelves.
“We must not let the actions of a few put us off buying local strawberries.”
In 2016/17, South Australia produced 6000 tonnes of strawberries with a farm gate value of about $42 million.
SA Produce Market chief executive Angelo Demasi welcomed the state government’s support and didn’t expect the need to check strawberries before sale to increase prices.
“While the national investigations continue, this will enable growers to continue to service consumers locally, interstate and overseas,” Mr Demasi said.
“Consumer welfare is paramount at the moment and that’s really what matters.
“We want to ensure growers can prepare for the upcoming season and reassure consumers that they are able to enjoy locally-grown, fresh strawberries without fear.”
Mr Marshall said the state government also wanted to send a strong message to those people tampering with fruit that they would be caught and there would be serious consequences for their actions.
Last month, a 34-year-old SA man was charged with making a false report in relation to an alleged strawberry contamination after telling police his daughter had bit into a strawberry with a needle.
It was one of more than 100 reports investigated across the country with many believed to be fake or copycat cases, prompted by the initial incidents of needle contamination.
In response to the strawberry scare, the federal government increased penalties for food tamperers who could now be jailed for up to 15 years.