Strawberry sabotage saga goes global
THE FALLOUT over needles found in Australian strawberries has turned political as the fruit industry starts to feel the full impact of the sabotage.
Today, one of New Zealand's largest food distributors - Foodstuffs - announced it was stripping its shelves of Australian strawberries as a precaution.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has also ordered the food safety watchdog to investigate Queensland's handling of the issue.
Foodstuffs supplies to half of New Zealand's grocery store market. They announced on Monday they were halting shipment of Aussie strawberries to its stores.
A spokesman said none of its products had been affected, but it was acting to reassure customers.
Foodstuffs' move comes after needles were found in strawberries across Australia - most recently in South Australia and NSW.
So far there have been 10 cases across the country as police investigate the sabotage which has now spread to six brands across five states and the ACT.
Berry Obsession, Berry Licious and Donnybrook Berries have recalled their strawberries nationwide and Coles and Aldi supermarkets have pulled all strawberries from their shelves as a precaution.
The contamination of fruit sold by Delightful Strawberries, Love Berries and Oasis is also being investigated.
New Zealand's strawberry season is about to begin, which will fill the supply gap, the spokesman told AAP.
The country imports the fruit from Australia when it is out of season, typically from April to September.
A health warning has been issued across the east coast of Australia and in SA to bin or cut up strawberries.
More instances of needles being found inserted in the fruit has sparked suspicion of copycat behaviour.
The hunt to find those responsible for the needles is being led by Queensland Police.
The state's Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has also announced a $100,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest. Police believe the needles were deliberately planted "to injure somebody".
"How could any right-minded person want to put a baby or a child or anybody's health at risk by doing such a dreadful act?" Ms Palaszczuk said.
"This is putting families' lives at risk and it's also putting the strawberry industry at risk. We need to catch those responsible."
FOOD WATCHDOG CALLED IN
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has ordered the national food safety watchdog to assess the states' handling of strawberry contamination.
"This is a very vicious crime and it's a general attack on the public, and it's also an attack on a specific industry," Mr Hunt told reporters.
He said while it was primarily a problem for the states, he had asked his department to request Food Standards Australia New Zealand make an "immediate appraisal" of the situation.
His comments come as Nationals MP Andrew Broad says the culprits should be jailed.
"The low-life scum who think it's somehow funny to chuck needles in strawberries I think should be chucked in jail as soon as they're identified," the frontbencher said.
STRAWBERRY GROWERS SEEK HELP
The fall out is being felt in the strawberry industry as the Queensland government considers financial assistance packages for growers.
Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner has met with strawberry growers - who are nervous about their future - due to the rising instances of contamination.
Vice-president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, Adrian Schultz, says what started with a single "act of commercial terrorism" has now brought a multimillion-dollar industry to its knees, with jobs beyond the growers now likely to be lost.
Mr Furner says industry-specific assistance packages are being considered but no plan will be made until an understanding of the "complete effect" of the sabotage is understood.
Strawberries Australia Inc Queensland spokesman Ray Daniels hoped customers would continue to buy berries.
"We produce 800,000 punnets a day and seven needles were found. You've got more chance of winning lotto than being affected," he said.
"I would call on people to go out and buy strawberries today but please, cut them up to check."
STRAWBERRY SABOTAGE HITS SA
The most recent case was found in South Australia where a customer found a needle while eating a strawberry from a punnet of Mal's Black Label on Sunday, SA police confirmed.
The punnet was bought from Klose's Foodland Supermarket in Littlehampton on Saturday with the independent grocery retailer pulling the strawberries from all its shelves.
WHICH BRANDS ARE AFFECTED
- Berry Obsession
- Berry Licious
- Love Berry
- Donnybrook Berries
- Delightful Strawberries
- Mal's Black Label
WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A NEEDLE
Anyone who suspects they may have swallowed a needle should call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or contact their GP.
If you have information that could help police contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
If you find a needle in a strawberry punnet contact police on 131 444.