Australian strawberry growers needled by 'terrorism' as anger grows over sabotage

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Consumers across Australia have reported finding needles stuck in their strawberries, as the government launches a federal investigation and growers install metal detectors to try to stop the contamination.

"It's not a joke, it's not amusing, you are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you are scaring children, you're a coward and you're a grub".

Jamie Michael, who is head of the Western Australia Strawberry Growers Association, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp that his farm had dumped strawberries in the peak of the season and that if shoppers stayed away, some growers would not be able to afford to plant a crop for next year. "And if you do that sort of thing in this country we will come after you, and we will throw the book at you".

Public health authorities for Australia's state of Queensland put out an alert stating it is safe to purchase the fruit from brands still on the shelves, but noted consumers should still take necessary precautions and check their strawberries before eating them.

But anything can happen at the store level, a spokesman said, so the company is considering introducing improved packaging.

The government will also expand the definition of the crime of "sabotage" - usually referring to sabotage of key national infrastructure - to include the sabotage of food for human consumption.

The Federal Government has already announced $1 million to help deal with the crisis, fast-track product recalls and to detect contamination.

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

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Announcing the fund in Parliament on Tuesday morning, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the past week had seen Queensland become the victim of an "ugly, calculated and despicable crime".

Others fear the rising number of cases is down to copycats.

Mr Stewart did not give details but confirmed police were also investigating a banana contamination.

The strawberry industry is worth A$160 million for the Queensland state, with farmers producing 60 million punnets of the fruit each year.

New South Wales on Wednesday became the third Australian state to offer an A$100,000 reward for information leading to the prosecution of any individual who contaminates a food source.

There have been 20 contamination incidents reported across NSW alone, spanning the state from Tweed Heads to Albury.

Australia exports about 4 per cent of its strawberry...

"My mum Leena Lee Cufari and my step dad has worked years to build this empire they're sitting on now, they put all their money and effort in to build such a successful business", Chheang said.

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