Health risk concern for orchard workers

Cromwell orchardists are concerned about the public health risks of continued freedom camping by fruitpickers.

While no cases of illness have been reported, the summerfruit industry body says it has serious concerns about the conditions in which some orchard workers are living and the possibility of a breakout of transferrable disease.

Summerfruit New Zealand chairman and Cromwell orchardist Tim Jones said the possible impact on export crops was discussed at Summerfruit's board meeting last month and about five Cromwell orchardists were concerned.

The issue was also raised at this month's Cromwell Community Board meeting and board chairman Neil Gillespie said it was important to sort it out.

''The reality is that where there's a lot of people congregating in areas with nothing other than cold running water and a toilet that wasn't designed for too many people, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that that must pose public health issues . . . I don't want to be alarmist about it, but the fact is [the risk is] real and people need to be mindful of it.''

Many Central Otago orchards provide staff accommodation, but some workers prefer not to pay for that accommodation and go freedom camping.

Mr Jones said strict food safety procedures were followed in orchard packhouses and no health incidents had been reported yet on Central Otago orchards.

However, orchardists wanted freedom-camping issues solved before any problems occurred.

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