Growers’ new weapon to restore confidence
QUEENSLAND strawberry growers will install metal detectors to get back on the shelves of spooked supermarkets, as One Nation leader Pauline Hanson urges the Federal Government to pay farmers compensation for "an act of terror".
Ms Hanson yesterday met separately with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud to lobby for a $6 million bailout package for the sector, "on its knees" in the wake of the needle scare.
It is understood the Prime Minister has not ruled out a compensation package, but it is not being actively considered.
And as crisis talks were held in Queensland and Canberra, farmers were killing hundreds of thousands of plants to save money.
Nine cases of suspected industrial sabotage, with needles hidden in the fruit, have been confirmed. Six brands have been affected, with police called in to investigate across several states.
In a day bittersweet day for Queensland strawberry farmers, Aldi announced it would restock strawberry brands after announcing a recall at the weekend.
But growers were hit with the news that New Zealand had pulled Australian punnets from their shelves.
Glass House Mountains farmer Leonard Smith said he met with Coles representatives at his farm yesterday and agreed to install metal detectors, which would cost him about $30,000.
He would need two to cover the rest of the season, and he had spoken to other growers who would also install the safety measure.
He said some smaller mum-and-dad growers, who had only a few hundred thousand plants, may not be able to afford too.
"I need to get them in service in weeks so I can pay some debt off so I don't have to have some uncomfortable conversations,'' Mr Smith said.
Asked if he had any idea about the culprit or motive, Mr Smith said: "I don't know mate, you guess is as good as mine.
"You can never guess what's in the mind of a dickhead."
He said there was no guarantee metal detectors would work, especially if the sabotage was happening offsite.
His farmhand Cameron Stevens at the weekend killed off 500,000 plants because it was more effective to burn them off then pick them.
Neither Mr Morrison or Mr Littleproud would publicly comment on their meetings with Senator Hanson, who also launched a pre-emptive strike at banks, warning them not to call in loans from affected farmers.
In correspondence to Mr Littleproud yesterday, Senator Hanson wrote: "In the event of Australians being the victim of terrorism, the Department of Human Services offers up to $75,000 depending on the circumstances.
"These growers I feel are the victims of an act of terrorism."
After the meeting she said the Government should not take too long to unveil what they were prepared to do.
"I have strongly advocated today that a $75,000 government grant should be made available for growers who wish to implement scanners on their fruit production lines and help execute tamper-proof technologies which will both improve food security and restore public confidence in the strawberry industry.
"This Government have been very quick to react overnight to the live export trade and I sense that my $6 million dollar grant scheme could be implemented in the same amount of time.
"The sick malice that has been shown towards farmers at a time when the public are acutely aware of the troubles they're going through in this country is just evil and I will do everything in my power to assist their industry."
Queensland Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington, who has been holding regular talks with Mr Littleproud on the issue, said support packages needed to be considered for growers.
"We need to protect our farmers during this devastating time and show them they aren't alone,'' Ms Frecklington said.
"The best thing Queenslanders can do is to get out and continue buying strawberries, just remember to chop them before eating.
"We need to catch the twisted and moronic people behind this."
It comes as federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced he had ordered to food safety watchdog to investigate Queensland's handling the matter.
Queensland Strawberry Growers Association vice-president Adrian Schultz said a single act of commercial terrorism had brought the industry to its knees.
"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," Mr Schultz told ABC Radio.