Australia's strawberry needle scare spurs proposal for 15-year jail term

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SUPERMARKET giant Woolworths has taken the extraordinary step of withdrawing sewing needles from its shelves nationally following the fruit tampering crisis.

Woolworths announced Thursday that it was temporarily removing needles from sale, according to the Reuters news agency. "The safety of our customers is our top priority".

More than 100 reports have been made of hidden needles, and two people who accidentally ate needles required treatment at a hospital.

On Wednesday, an Australian government minister said at least 100 reports had been received of needles in fruit. Needles, first found in strawberries produced by one supplier in the northern state of Queensland, are now turning up around the country.

Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor MP Susan Templeman eat strawberry pancakes after preparing them together with Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek and shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, September 20, 2018.

Needle found in strawberry punnet.

As farmers reeled from the crisis, the federal government intervened on Wednesday, announced a $1m support package for the industry in addition to the tough new penalties.

Australia on Thursday increased the jail term to 15 years for anyone convicted of contaminating foodstuffs as a scare over needles found in strawberries and other fruits gripped the country.

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NSW Police would not confirm whether or not the child placed a needle in the strawberry, but said she was dealt with under the Young Defender's Act, adding that no further action would be pursued.

"I'm just focused on making sure no idiot goes into a supermarket this weekend and does something ridiculous", Mr Morrison told reporters in Royalla in NSW.

The problem came to light from a Facebook post earlier this month by a man who said his friend had swallowed part of a needle hidden in a strawberry and went to the hospital. It's not amusing. You're putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk.

On Tuesday, police in New South Wales said they were investigating incidents involving an apple and a banana.

The Queensland and Western Australian governments are offering similar rewards.

If the person were an adult, he would be facing a maximum of 10 years in jail in NSW.

"It is beyond belief that anybody would deliberately sabotage fruit to try and harm people in the process, harm our hardworking fruit farmers and the industry", she told Parliament.

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