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Hepatitis proves berry bad for growers

field

Price, demand drop for strawberries

April 3, 1997
Web posted at: 11:20 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Rusty Dornin

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- News that frozen strawberries from Mexico were contaminated with the Hepatitis A virus may have hexed the U.S. berry market for the rest of the growing season.

About 80 percent of the strawberries grown in the United States come from California. And while they may be red, ripe and perfectly safe to eat, fears over contamination won't go away quickly.


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movie icon (1MB/29 sec. QuickTime movie) berries

"The prices have definitely been affected," says Scott Salisbury, a produce broker. "Already, there's been as much as $2 off the wholesale price of berries, and there has been some reluctance to purchase."

The hepatitis scare is something of a one-two punch for strawberry farmers. Last year, the fruit was initially blamed for bacterial contamination later found to be caused by raspberries imported from Central America.

The fact that the most recent scare involves school lunches, found to be contaminated with frozen strawberries, may have compounded the problem. Produce sellers fear that because kids got sick, parents might be reluctant to buy strawberries this season, period.

officials

In hopes of saving the growers' season, officials in California have launched an effort at spin control. Both the state's agriculture secretary, Ann Veneman, and the health and welfare secretary, Sandra Smoley, have been emphatic in their statements that the Mexican contamination has nothing to do with California's berries.

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And while the hepatitis scare has been a blow to growers, shoppers who do buy the berries should see lower prices at the checkout.

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