Tomato farmers across the US are losing millions of dollars as shoppers shun their crops after they were linked with a salmonella scare.
Growers have been forced to plough up their fields or leave their tomatoes to rot in packing houses.
With losses across the supply chain topping EUR100 million (pounds 50 million), industry leaders are calling for a congressional investigation into the government’s handling of the outbreak, the source of which has still not been found.
Fast-food chains McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Yum Brands resumed offering some tomatoes on their menus in the last few weeks.
But now, during one of the biggest barbecue weekends of the year, tomato farmers say their summer season has already withered despite the government’s recent announcement that some other type of fresh produce might have caused the salmonella outbreak, which has left more than 900 people ill.
“Now the government has a doubt as to whether it was tomatoes after they’ve already blackened our eye?” said grower Paul DiMare.
Farmers, packers and deliverers fear it could take months to rebuild the EUR1.3 billion market for fresh tomatoes.
In Fresno County, one grower chose to lose EUR225,000 by letting his tomatoes rot in the fields because he would have taken a bigger hit hiring people to harvest them.
Officials with the FDA and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have said the sheer complexity of the outbreak and the industry’s vast international supply chain have hampered efforts to find the sources of contamination.
Last week, the FDA suggested tomatoes picked weeks ago could have tainted packing sheds or warehouses that are only now sending their products to market.
There is also the possibility that the source itself is still on the market or that a different kind of produce is making people sick.
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