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Outbreak of confusion over lunchbox fruit ban

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South Australia’s horticultural industry is lobbying to overturn a ban on fruit in school lunchboxes, with the State Government accused of failing to consult growers or properly communicate restrictions to parents.

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Key representatives from the fruit growing industry will meet with Primary Industries Minister David Basham on Friday to try to convince him the lunchbox ban is unnecessary.

Many parents were caught off-guard on the first day of the new school year today, unsure of what they could and couldn’t pack in lunchboxes.

There are now nine metropolitan and three regional fruit fly outbreaks in South Australia, with restrictions affecting residents in nearly 300 suburbs.

A brochure sent to affected residents recently told them to not move “home-grown fresh fruit” from their properties but did not mention store-bought fruit.

Residents and parents are now being told the ban on moving fruit also applies to store-bought fruit – and that includes packing it in lunchboxes.

A spokesperson for Education Minister John Gardner told InDaily PIRSA had last week advised the Education Department of the restrictions and asked it to communicate the bans to school leaders and parents.

The Education Department sent a letter to school leaders on Friday with detailed advice from PIRSA.

“PIRSA gave the (Education) Department advice to communicate with school leaders last week and that was promptly communicated to all leaders on Friday afternoon, with the advice to communicate with parents,” the Education Minister’s spokesperson said.

But many parents weren’t notified by their schools, leading to some confusion this morning.

A link on PIRSA’s website with information also wasn’t working this morning or last night but has since been fixed.

Horticulture Coalition of SA chair Angelo Demasi told InDaily he was also “caught by surprise” by the ban on store-bought fruit in lunchboxes and said there was “no scientific evidence” for it.

“We think there’s probably a better way to reduce that risk,” he said.

“And that would be to ensure you purchase your produce from a supermarket or independent retail store, you put it in the fridge, you keep it in a lunchbox, and if you can’t discard your apple core in a green waste bin with a lid on it (at school) then put it back in your lunchbox, put the lid on it, take it home and put it in a green waste bin.

“That pretty much reduces the risk.”

He called on the government to address “the more serious concern” of the movement of fruit such as through unregulated supply channels including Facebook Marketplace and pop-up stalls.

He also said there were bigger risks in the spread of fruit fly if produce was discarded in general waste rather than green bins, for example in restaurants or at home.

Demasi said he and other industry groups were meeting with Basham on Friday “to get some clarification and better messaging” and hopefully convince him to overturn the lunchbox ban on store-bought fruit.

“I have spoken to the Government and… all options are on the table,” he said.

Demasi said the ban had already seen a 30 per cent reduction in some fruit sales, and would have a significant impact on apple and pear growers with the season just about to start.

One of those growers is Tony Ceravolo, of Ceravolo Orchards in the Adelaide Hills, who described the lunchbox ban on shop-bought fruit as “ridiculous”.

“It will be absolutely detrimental to our industry – we’re only just starting the new season apples off,” he said.

“We’ve gone through all the processes with PIRSA of actually making sure that we confirm with all the regulations… and we get to market and our actual customers are saying that mums and dads will not buy any snacks with fruit for children to put into lunchboxes.

“It just doesn’t make sense.”

He said there was “no issue at all” with store-bought fruit being moved if it was kept in containers and disposed of properly in green bins.

He also said there had been a lack of consultation with the industry on the ban.

“Where has the government consulted with industry about what they’re doing?” he said.

“It would be so nice to give us some information of what’s actually happening. They don’t realise how much it’s actually going to hurt our industries now.”

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said the Government had failed to adequately communicate the bans to parents.

“As a parent myself, I have found it difficult to get clear information from the government about packing school lunch boxes,” he said.

“It is remarkable there has been so little information provided about something which affects the day-to-day lives of so many South Australians.

“This government has spent millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on advertising campaigns. Why didn’t the government invest in ensuring parents were aware of significant bans on the school lunch box?”

The brochure sent to households recently advised: “Do not move home-grown fresh fruit

“You must not remove home-grown fruit, fruiting vegetables or garden waste from your property.

“You cannot take fresh home-grown fruit in lunch boxes for work or school.”

Basham said “the rules are clear – fruit cannot be taken off properties inside fruit fly outbreak areas (and) this includes both fruit purchased from retail and home-grown backyard fruit”.

“Fruit fly can only have spread to the latest outbreak area in Black Forest if someone took it there so we have to restrict the movement of fruit around the city,” he said.

“While the restrictions are less for those living in suspension zones we are asking people in these areas to limit the movement of fruit where possible.

“We are facing South Australia’s largest ever Mediterranean fruit fly outbreak on an unprecedented scale impacting almost 300 suburbs and we need homeowners to play their part to get rid of this pest.

“We need the public’s help to get on top of these outbreaks and detailed maps and alternative ideas for what to pack in lunch boxes are all on the PIRSA website.

“South Australia has a 100 per cent record when it comes to eradicating fruit fly outbreaks with the strict protocols having been set for many years and agreed by industry.”

People can check if their suburb is affected by visiting the PIRSA website, which gives the following instruction on store-bought fruit:

“If you live in a fruit fly outbreak or suspension area, host fruit and fruiting vegetables purchased from a retail outlet must be kept secure when taken home – this means in a sealed bag or container – and it must then remain at home.

Almost all fruit except melons are on the banned list.

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