Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Australia strawberry needles scare widens as federal probe is launched

This crisis threatens strawberry farming industry worth more $116 million This crisis threatens strawberry farming industry worth more $116 million
Ellis Copeland | 19 September, 2018, 18:37

Mr Morrison said it was important to send a "very clear message" to would-be offenders as police work to track down those behind the recent spate of strawberry contamination, with sewing needles hidden in the fruit.

Apples and bananas in Sydney have been contaminated with needles, but New South Wales police believe the incidents are isolated and not related to the Queensland strawberry attack that occurred last week.

The Queensland Strawberry Growers' Association has suggested that the needles may have been placed inside the strawberries by a disgruntled employee, while other sources have claimed that some cases may be copycat incidents, but police said it is to early to speculate.

Greg Hunt, the Australian health secretary, directed Food Standards Australia and New Zealand to investigate the incidents, as concern spread about the apparent sabotage of the retail supply chain.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has ordered a federal investigation into the contamination. "This a vicious crime, it's created to injure, and possibly worse, members of the population at large", Hunt said.

The state government is offering a A$100,000 (US$71,950) reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the sabotage.

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Foodstuffs and Countdown, food distributors in New Zealand, have suspended selling Australian strawberries.

"As you would have heard, this morning a student at St. Paul's discovered a needle in a piece of fruit", the school wrote on Facebook page on Wednesday night.

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There have now been nine confirmed cases of strawberries found with needles in them and one consumer has been hospitalised, the ABC reported.

Sewing needles have been found in punnets of strawberries purchased in five states or territories - the latest in Tasmania.

Deputy Nationals Leader Bridget McKenzie also urged police in each jurisdiction affected to catch the strawberry saboteurs.

"Someone is trying to sabotage the industry but also in doing that, they are putting babies' and children's and families' lives at risk", said Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Queensland Strawberry Growers Association vice president Adrian Schultz said what had started as a single act of "commercial terrorism" had brought a multimillion-dollar industry to its knees.

"I can't tell you how disgusted I am, also in the fact that they are fabricating evidence", he said.

The Queensland Health Department has advised anyone who has bought Berry Obsession and Berry Licious strawberries to destroy or return them after they were pulled from shelves.

In Queensland, struggling growers have been boosted by the announcement of a $1 million fund to help them through the crisis.

Queensland state, the country's largest strawberry producing region, is particularly vulnerable to a sustained downturn in the market.

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