Strawberry Industry

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (14:40): My question is to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing. Will the minister update the council on the emerging national incident involving needles found in strawberries, and actions undertaken by the department and others to investigate and protect the public?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (14:41): I thank the honourable member for the question. As the honourable member has noted, this is an emerging national incident. On 12 September 2018, Queensland Health and Queensland Police Service announced three incidents of needles being found in two brands of strawberries from one producer in Queensland. Subsequently, similar incidents were reported implicating another Queensland brand, Donnybrook Berries. Similar incidents have now been reported in multiple states. It is not clear at this stage if these are unrelated, accidental contamination, copycat or false reports.

On Friday 14 September 2018, SA Health was made aware that Donnybrook Berries strawberries were available to the South Australian market through Coles, Woolworths, IGA and Aldi stores. As a result, a precautionary media release from SA Health was distributed alerting the South Australian public to the incident and reminding consumers to either return the product or cut up their strawberries before consuming them. SA Health continues to work with SAPOL and nationally with Food Standards Australia New Zealand and state food regulators to investigate any cases of contamination.

The actions of those responsible are abhorrent. Their actions not only have the potential for severe health consequences for individuals, but they have the potential to have a catastrophic impact on growers, their employees, and local markets that are dependent on the industry. It is important to stress that to date, South Australian-produced strawberries have not been implicated. South Australian-produced strawberries are expected to enter the market in October 2018.

I encourage all consumers to be vigilant but not to boycott the fruit. South Australian growers have spent millions of dollars getting their crop into the ground, and if they can't sell the products it will have a catastrophic impact on the industry. The industry plays an integral part in our state economy. In 2016-17, South Australia produced around 6,000 tons of strawberry with a farmgate value of around $42 million. South Australian consumers should continue to support the strawberry industry but at the same time, they should exercise caution and cut up all their fruit before consuming it.