Australian growers say strawberries are safe to eat after revelations of pesticide use in the industry
YARRA Valley strawberry farmers have reassured consumers their produce is safe to eat after reports that Australian strawberry plants were being treated with a restricted chemical.
On Monday, theABC reported the Toolangi Certified Strawberry Runner Growers Co-op was using methyl bromide as a pesticide for its runner plants.
The co-op produces nursery plants which are supplied to commercial strawberry growers across Australia.
In 1989, the United Nations agreed to phase out some uses of methyl bromide because of its damaging effects to the ozone layer.
Under a UN exemption, runner growers are allowed to use the chemical in small amounts to control soil-borne diseases and pests. But commercial strawberry growers stopped using methyl bromide more than 10 years ago.
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Australian Strawberry Growers Association president Sam Violi said he was highly concerned the report painted commercial growers with the same brush as runner growers.
Mr Violi, who owns Coldstream’s Golden Vale strawberry farm, said he was worried sales of Yarra Valley strawberries would fall just weeks after the industry experienced a spike after the Nanna’s imported frozen berries hepatitis scare.
“So many of our growers are concerned about the public getting the wrong information,” Mr Violi said.
“Our message is that our strawberries are safe to eat.
“Methyl bromide is not sprayed on the fruit. It is only used as a soil fumigant in production and we only get the plants 12 months after that.”
Co-op managing director George Weda said methyl bromide was still being used by runner growers because there were “no effective alternatives”.
Mr Weda said growers were making considerable efforts to reduce the use of the chemical but warned against a total ban until an alternative was found.
He said if methyl bromide was banned, runner growers would not be able to supply commercial growers with healthy plants, which would lead to a decline in yields and encourage imports.
But Environmental Justice Australia chief executive Brendan Sydes said it was a “real failure” that the runner industry had not come up with an alternative.
“We believe that if people knew more about this issue they’d be very concerned that the strawberries they’re consuming are contributing to this significant environmental issue,” Mr Sydes said.