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Strawberry Celebrated Despite Fruit Scare

June 24, 1996

WATSONVILLE, Calif. (AP) _ Tiffany Sample stuffed down two plates of glazed California strawberries, undeterred by reports that they are the suspected source of a rare parasite that has sickened scores of people.

The 12-year-old girl won the coveted pig trophy in a pie-eating contest at the annual Strawberry Festival held over the weekend at the Watsonville Fairgrounds.

``I love fruit too much,″ Tiffany said Saturday. ``I didn’t eat anything all day long for this.″

Many among the 9,000 people who attended the festival had heard about the cyclospora scare but were reassured when state and federal researchers could not find any trace of the microbe in California’s crop.

Nearly 200 cases of intestinal infection caused by the cyclospora parasite have been identified in the past month in Toronto, Canada, as well as in Texas and eight other states. Health officials in Texas have linked the disease to California strawberries, which are exported to most of the nation at this time of year.

``I think this is a conspiracy from the grapefruit growers″ in Texas, said Roberta Quick of Napa, who was selling berries for the Family Ranch of Watsonville.

Outside the festival, about 30 members of the United Farm Workers distributed fliers detailing poor working conditions for pickers.

``I wouldn’t want to buy strawberries right now,″ said union spokesman Irv Hershenbaum. ``You’d have to be crazy.″

Elsewhere in northern California, strawberry sales remained on par. Sellers at small stores, grocery markets and farmers’ markets said customers were still buying the red berries.

``People are worried about it, but we still have sold out,″ said Annabelle Lenderink, who represents Lucero Organic Farms at six San Francisco Bay area farmers’ markets.

``Thank God. It’s the last thing we need now,″ she said. ``We don’t want another natural disaster on top of how hard it is to farm already.″

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