A strawberry sabotage is devastating the industry in Australia, reports The Guardian. Needles and pins have been found in various strawberry punnets in grocery stores across four states.
An ongoing investigation has caused six strawberry brands to recall their fruit in fears of contamination. Coles and Aldi supermarkets have already pulled all strawberries from their shelves while Berry Obsession, Berry Licious, and Donnybrook Berries have recalled their strawberries nationwide. Love Berry, Delightful Strawberries, and Oasis brands may have also been affected by a possible copycat. Investigators are still unsure as to whether the contamination is the work of a single person or various people or groups.
Health minister Greg Hunt has ordered the national food safety watchdog to assess the situation, telling reporters that “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.”
Investigators are offering a $100,000 reward for any information given to the Queensland government that could lead to the capture of the culprit. Consumers have also been warned to chop up their fruit before eating it.
Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart stated that the investigation is complicated because of how many people handle the strawberries before they are sold in stores.
“There is a range of really complex scenarios which could play out here, and we’re looking at all of them, and that’s what’s taking the time.”
Investigators also fear that the latest batches of needle contamination could be the result of copycats. In central Queensland, a 62-year-old woman was found contaminating a banana with a needle. She has since been identified to have mental health issues and the situation is being treated as an isolated incident.
Vice president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, Adrian Schultz, calls the contamination an act of “commercial terrorism” and says that it has brought the entire industry to its knees. He spoke to ABC radio on Monday about the situation, writes The Guardian.
“I’m angry for all the associated people, it’s the farmers, the people who supply them, the packaging people, the truckies with families to support, who suddenly lose their jobs… it’s far-reaching.”
Many growers are already experiencing economic stresses as the result of the contamination. There are approximately 150 commercial strawberry growers in Queensland that are being offered generic government assistance packages while the investigation continues.
The $100,000 reward for the culprit has been issued by Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who is concerned for both growers as well as consumers. Palaszczuk spoke to reporters on Saturday.
“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? This is putting families’ lives at risk and it’s also putting the strawberry industry at risk. We need to catch those responsible.”