Australians are ditching strawberries en masse after a series of horrible incidents where a few people who ate the fruit were admitted to the hospital. The reason — strawberries with needles inside.
The strawberry scare
While it is speculated that a few needles might have gotten into the strawberries during their manufacturing and packaging process, law enforcement agencies also believe that some of the incidents might actually be copycats who tampered with the fruit and intentionally placed needles inside them.
Cases of tampering with strawberries were initially reported from the state of Queensland. However, incidents were later reported from other states like South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and so on.
Many supermarkets have stopped selling strawberries while those who do sell them strictly warn customers to cut the fruit before eating it. Meanwhile, several of the biggest grocers in New Zealand have completely stopped importing Australian strawberries.
The government of Queensland has offered a reward of AU$100,000 (approximately US$72,000) for anyone who provides more information about the heinous crime. “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?” BBC quotes Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Brands that have been pulled from the supermarkets include Berry Licious, Donnybrook Berries, Berry Obsession, Delightful Strawberries, Oasis, and Love Berry. The needle scare has dampened the spirit of strawberry farmers, especially since this is the peak production period. Many are worried that the price slump might result in a major loss for them this year.
“It is costing us a lot of money. On our own farm, [it costs] about AU$48.288 (US$34,853) per day to harvest just the fruit we are dumping,” Telegraph quotes a strawberry farmer from Brisbane.
In places like Western Australia, strawberry prices are reported to be near the level of cost of production. The banking industry has come forward to help farmers, declaring that it is willing to provide financial assistance to those who have been affected by the declining strawberry prices.
Meanwhile, the crime has moved on to other fruits, as needles have been reported in items like bananas and apples. However, the police are treating these as isolated incidents.
Taking into account the threat to public life and the massive damage to the strawberry industry, which is estimated to be a US$115 million market, the Australian government has announced strict laws against the culprits. “You are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk, and you are scaring children. And you are a coward and a grub,” BBC quotes Scott Morrison.
According to reports, the government is working to make food tampering a crime that is punishable by a jail term of 10 to 15 years. In addition, people who fraudulently claim to be affected by food tampering will also be punished.
Exporters have been advised to check all their strawberry shipments thoroughly. All batches are to be mandatorily screened through a metal detector or X-ray machines to ensure that there are no needles in them.
Police are now investigating the supply chains in Queensland to uncover the source of the needle scare. A boy has also been arrested from New South Wales and has admitted to having inserted needles into strawberries.