Use your melon: support all horticulture | OPINION

Use your melon: support all of horticulture | OPINION


Opinion
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The melon industry has been knocked around by a listeria outbreak. It should make the entire horticulture industry sit-up.

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EDITORIAL

THE fruit platter beamed like a plump rainbow from the table.

The particular conference had broken for morning tea, allowing delegates to take their pick of scones, biscuits or fresh fruit. Upon securing a cup of coffee and saucer, a certain attendee perused the offerings.

He made his selection before pointedly avoiding a piece of watermelon and dryly quipping to a nearby colleague: "Don't think I'll go for the listeria this time."

The comment was met with subtle laughter. Being from an agricultural background and aware of the situation, he surely meant no harm.

But the point had been made.

An off-the-cuff comment like that speaks volumes about the battle horticulture is now facing. That is the entire horticulture industry, not just melons.

The connection of a number of fatal listeriosis cases back to NSW-grown rockmelons has shaken the melon industry.

It should shudder the entire horticulture sector as well.

While smart marketers and industry advocates declare that growers need to re-invent themselves as "food producers", the recent situation brings up the other edge to the sword.

It won't be the household fridges that are accused and judged on social media. It'll be the growers and suppliers.

Food is an integral part of people's lives.

If horticulture is going to claim this space, it needs to operate on a higher level than ever before.

There has been a real push for this in recent years with farm hygiene, biosecurity and quality assurance certification becoming key topics at workshops, conferences and forums.

It has made the industry more aware, more vigilant of what needs to happen in order to play in the food space.

And yet, there is an unpredictable element when it comes to the supply chain: humans. Or perhaps, consumers.

Not all are aware of the best practices for food preparation in their own homes and if an outbreak, contamination or sickness occurs, it'll hardly be the kitchen bench and knife work which will come into public attention.

It won't be the household fridges that are accused and judged on social media. It'll be the growers and suppliers.

A friend once worked part-time at an independent greengrocer while studying at university. He openly declared he would wash every single piece of fresh produce for the rest of his life, knowing the handling practices that went on "behind the scenes".

What needs to happen now is to back our own. All of horticulture needs to get behind the melon industry, perhaps by buying some melons and spreading the word that melons are good to go.

Because although it might be melons this month, it could be lettuce next time, or citrus the time after that, or walnuts further down the track.

Let's get the melon industry humming again and ensure no fruit platters of the future are shunned.

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