Canberra calls for consumer action as Singapore supermarket bans Australian strawberries over contamination scare

Australian PM Scott Morrison is trying to assure shoppers his country’s strawberries are safe, with new scanning and packaging measures

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 3:47pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 10:00pm

Australian shoppers need to back farmers besieged by a contaminated fruit scare, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday, as Singapore’s largest supermarket chain put a halt on all Australian strawberries.

Morrison outlined tighter export controls as the crisis – which has seen pins and needles inserted into fruit across the country – spread further overseas.

The prime minister detailed several government-backed measures to restore confidence in the industry, including funding to review tamper-proof packaging and the recent introduction of X-rays and shrink wrapping on exports.

“There’s work also being done to support communications up through the supply chain into our international markets,” he told reporters at a farm in the northeast state of Queensland.

The industry is reeling as a string of incidents over the past few weeks – some of them copycats or hoaxes – have unnerved shoppers and have police struggling to find the original offender.

The crisis has spread overseas too. Last week a needle turned up in a basket of Australian strawberries in New Zealand, prompting authorities there to employ extra screening measures.

On Thursday, NTUC FairPrice, Singapore’s largest supermarket-chain operator, confirmed it had stopped all strawberry imports from Australia from September 24 as a “precautionary measure”.

Strawberry sales had declined 10 per cent since the reports of sabotage came to light, the food retailer added.

“We continue to monitor the situation closely, and our food safety protocols and procedures are also in place should we need to recall any products, in compliance with the authorities’ advisories,” a FairPrice spokesperson said.

But while many farmers have been brought to the brink, it has also set off a public backlash against the saboteurs, with Australians buying strawberries en masse.

“That shows you what’s happening in Australia: Australians coming together and responding to a call to say, ‘Let’s get behind our strawberry farmers’,” Morrison said. “Whoever the idiot was who started this, his idiocy has been completely and totally overwhelmed by the good nature of the Australian people who have stood with our strawberry farmers.”

Hong Kong supermarket selling strawberries individually wrapped for HK$168 as pressure grows to reduce packaging

Canberra has notified international markets that since September 19 Australian exporters are required to give assurance that their strawberry shipment is free from metal contaminants before they are granted a permit.