Strawberry needle scare: what’s going on?

Australian fruit growers say ‘commercial terrorism’ has brought industry to its knees

(Image credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Australian police have issued a public health warning after needles were found hidden in strawberries across all six of the country’s states.

Several brands of the fruit have been recalled, and “New Zealand’s biggest grocers have stopped selling Australian strawberries as a precaution”, says the BBC.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt has ordered the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) agency to investigate the matter.

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“This is a very vicious crime and it’s a general attack on the public,” he said.

How has the scare unfolded?

The strawberry industry “was plunged into chaos” just over a week ago when “a customer from Burpengary in Queensland bit into a strawberry with a needle inside it and ended up in hospital”, says Sydney-based site

Since then, needles or pins have been reported in strawberries in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.

A boy as young as nine “was among those to make the unpleasant discovery whilst eating, although no injuries have since been reported”, reports ITV News.

Authorities say the sabotage is “putting families’ lives at risk”, and a AUD$100,000 reward has been offered for information.

Who is behind the sobotage?

Police “are still unsure if the sabotage devastating the nation’s strawberry industry is the work of a single person or several people acting independently”, The Guardian reports.

Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said the investigation was complicated by the vast web of supply chains involved in producing and shipping strawberries.

“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,” he said.

Police fear there may also be copycat incidents, after a 62-year-old woman with mental health difficulties was caught putting a needle in a banana in central Queensland early last week.

What have the effects been?

Growers “have expressed concerns that the scare, which has come during the peak of production, could have a negative effect on sales for an industry worth about AUD$130m a year”, says the BBC.

The vice president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, Adrian Schultz, says that what started with a single “act of commercial terrorism” has now brought down a multimillion-dollar industry, putting many jobs at risk.

“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’s far-reaching,” he told Australia’s ABC Radio.

Strawberry prices have already dropped around the country, with prices in Western Australia now below the cost of production, according to Australian media.

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