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Stolen produce poses serious health risks

Farmers and the Department of Conservation Services say that large quantities of stolen produce are costing thousands - and could pose a health risk.

While properly grown Bermuda produce is safe, fruit and vegetables stolen shortly after they have been treated with organic chemicals could potentially harm children or people with weak immune systems.

Carlos Amaral of Amaral Farms said: “We're not using harsh insecticides or anything. Local produce is perfectly healthy, but even organic chemicals are potentially dangerous for someone with a weakened immune system, and so there is a recommended time before anything is harvested.

“If these people steal food that was sprayed that day, they could be playing Russian roulette.”

Mr Amaral said that stealing produce, sometimes called “night farming,” is a growing issue for Bermuda farmers.

“It's been a big problem over the last year or so, and it's not restricted to just one farm or just ne field or one part of the Island. It's Island wide,” he said.

“When you factor in not just the value of the produce, but wages, rent time working the field, younger plants being damaged or stepped on, it costs us around four or five thousand dollars every year.

“That's just us. If you add in six or seven other farmers, it's a pretty significant problem.”

He said many farmers he had spoken to are concerned that the courts are too lenient towards those caught stealing produce from farms.

“A lot of times they are given a suspended sentence, and they're out doing it again a week later, and people could get hurt.”

Tom Wadson of Wadson Farms said after investing his life into farming, it is devastating to see his crops stolen.

“It's difficult enough as is, but to come out and find that you've been wiped out, it's hard,” he said. “It's more than just cash, it's messing up all of our production.

“I know times are tight, but I don't see anyone coming around here asking for a job.”

He asked for anyone who sees suspicious activity to contact the Police.

“Thou shalt not steal,” he said. “If you're going to steal, rob a bank. At least they have money.”

A spokesman for the department of Conservation Services warned the public to avoid buying produce from unknown or suspicious individuals.

“These individuals travel to different neighborhoods, stores and restaurants in a bid to sell the produce,” said the spokesman.

“Indicators that fruit and vegetables might have been stolen include the produce being poorly packaged, the seller appearing nervous, the produce being sold cheaply or at bargain prices and the seller wishing to be paid in cash.”

This time of year, the most likely types of produce to be stolen are Bermuda oranges and grapefruits, bananas, carrots, pumpkin, cassava and sweet potatoes.

A farmer ploughs his field in Southampton in this file photo.

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Published December 03, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 10, 2010 at 3:39 am)

Stolen produce poses serious health risks

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