Some Utahns think the Chilean grape poisoning scare is, well, a bunch of baloney.
Jim Olsen, of the Utah Retail Grocers Association, said the phone calls he has received have been running 50 percent in favor of the Chilean fruit ban and 50 percent against."People are very upset that two grapes that are slightly tainted would disrupt the produce market of the United States," Olsen said. "A lot of people feel it just adds more fuel to the terrorist movement."
Clark Wood, director of produce for Associated Food Stores, a statewide grocery buying cooperative, said the grape quarantine has caused local consumers to turn to other fruits such as bananas and oranges. He said consumers will see a temporary price hike because of increased demand, especially on bananas, from the usual price this time of year of about 39 cents a pound, hiked to about 59 cents.
"With the grapes out of commission for a while, with apples out of commission, oranges and bananas - that's where the demands are."
But prices should stabilize shortly, as fruit in other markets outside of Chile ripens.
Wood estimated that local grocers have $147,000 of Chilean grapes rotting in warehouses.
"This is not a food safety issue," Wood said. "I think the consumer has to know this. It's a tampering issue. Politically, we pulled the grapes off because the FDA - which we support - suggested that we do so. It was not because emotionally, statistically, we felt that they were bad, because we still ate them."
As in any issue that affects people at their stomachs, the opponents are the most quotable, according Olsen. "I've had some very irate people call up and say 'You get me grapes and I'll eat them,' " Olson said.
"I had one person call me and say 'My life is more at stake in driving my car to the grocery store than it ever would be by eating the produce that I buy there."
Chilean produce was ordered pulled from grocery store shelves by the Food and Drug Administration - in the largest food ban ever - after two red grapes, punctured and laced with cyanide, were found in Philadelphia. The tainted grapes were tested by the FDA, and had been laced with .003 milligrams of cyanide, a traceso small it wouldn't even sicken a child.
The Chilean fruit scare began with anonymous threats of fruit cyanide poisoning to the U.S. Embassy in Santiago March 2. Until the contaminated grapes were found, the calls were thought to be a hoax.
Under orders from the FDA, more than 10,800 crates of grapes and 11 other types of fruits shipped from Chile have been inspected, and no additional signs of contamination have been found.
The scare has caused heavy losses to the Chile produce industry, as well as putting 3,000 Philadelphia longshoreman out of work and disrupting sales throughout the U.S. food system. Because fruit is perishable, losses to importers, grocers, and distributors are expected to run into millions of dollars.
Wood said the scare sparked overreaction. "Yes, everyone did overreact. I think now they're sensing that they did and I think they're starting to pull their horns back in. But there are some people who will never eat a grape again in their lives."
Olsen, director of the statewide association for grocers, said he personally thought the threats sparked officials to overreact, but said he is concerned about protecting the public. "Our attitude to our members is: 'You can't take a chance.;"