Australia's needle-in-strawberry scare widens

Oli Scarff  Getty Images

Oli Scarff Getty Images

Sewing needles were initially found in punnets of the fruit in Queensland last week, but the problem has since spread.

The first arrest has been made in relation to the recent fruit contamination scandal as police in New South Wales confirmed that a boy had handed himself in to officers, having admitted to putting needles in strawberries "as a prank".

The 15-year jail term is the same as financing terrorism, or for child pornography. It's not amusing. You're putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you're scaring children.

Ms Chheang said her Donnybrook Berries family business has had to dump truck loads of strawberries because supermarkets are refusing to stock them amid the needle scare. "If you do that sort of thing in this country, we will come after you and we will throw the book at you".

Metal needles were found in punnets of strawberries in all six Australian states, prompting a health warning.

"That's how seriously I take this", Mr Morrison said.

Those laws would be more likely to capture copycat cases, attorney-general Christian Porter said.

The federal government has also announced $1 million in funding to help strawberry growers through the crisis, matching a commitment from the Queensland state government.

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The contamination was first reported in Queensland, where the government is offering a $100,000 reward (almost $72,000 in USA dollars) for information.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said: "This is putting families' lives at risk and it's also putting the strawberry industry at risk".

"What isn't helpful is the number of copycat and fake reports making an already hard situation worse", Ms Palaszczuk told Parliament on Wednesday.

Australian farmers have been forced to dump tonnes of strawberries after needles were found in their produce.

NSW detective superintendent Daniel Doherty called them "an act of treachery on the community" as police mount a coordinated effort across all states to try and find the perpetrators.

"The simple point here is that on a larger scale, sabotage has been recently conceived to include sabotage of infrastructure that allows for the provision of electricity or water to Australian citizens, because they are essential to our citizens wellbeing and therefore our national security", he said.

Shortly after Mr Morrison announced the tougher penalties, NSW Police announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to the prosecution of any individual who contaminates a food source.

Queensland police commissioner Ian Stewart told reporters on Monday that it was unclear if the contamination was the result of a single person acting alone or several people acting independently and that tracing back through the complex supply chain was taking time.

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