Australia’s strawberry ‘terrorism’ spurs proposal for 15-year jail term

The issue is fast turning into one of Australia’s biggest ever food scares

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 2:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 9:36pm

The tainting of supermarket strawberries with sewing needles is comparable to “terrorism”, Australia’s prime minister said Wednesday, as he demanded tougher sentencing in response to a nationwide scare.

Urging Australians to make a strawberry pavlova this weekend to help struggling farmers, Scott Morrison demanded a change in the law to put the perpetrators behind bars for 15 years.

“We’re not mucking about” said Morrison, after at least 20 pieces of fruit were found to be contaminated with needles or pins.

“This is not on, this is just not on in this country,” he said.

Calling the perpetrator a “coward and a grub”, Morrison called on parliament to quickly raise the maximum sentence for such deliberate food contamination from 10 to 15 years behind bars.

That, he said, would put the crime on par with “things like possessing child pornography and financing terrorism. That’s how seriously I take this.”

The scare has prompted a slew of supermarket recalls, and some stores in New Zealand have temporarily banned the sale of Australian strawberries.

Farmers have been forced to pulp fruit and lay off pickers because of slower sales and lower wholesale prices.

“Just go back to buying strawberries like you used to, and take the precautions that you should,” Morrison told Australians in a televised address.

“Make a pav this weekend and put strawberries on it,” he suggested.

Authorities have suggested strawberries be cut up before they are eaten.

Australian police said they still did not know the motive behind the attacks and were still looking for suspects.

The needles, originally found in strawberries produced from one supplier in the northern state of Queensland, are now turning up around the country.

Police in New South Wales (NSW) state said needles had been found in more than 20 strawberry punnets, and there were reports that a banana and apple also had needles in them.

Australia searches for culprit hiding needles in strawberries

Police in other states are also investigating reports of similar sabotage, though they have not given details on the number of complaints.

“Any incidents of self-contamination or copycat incidents impact on the industry and are very unhelpful for authorities,” NSW Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty said.

One person has told media he suffered minor injuries to his mouth after biting on a strawberry with a needle embedded in it.

Previous contamination cases in Australia have led to arrests, but not convictions.

In 2000, a man was accused of lacing paracetamol tablets with strychnine, prompting the tablets to be recalled nationwide. The suspect died in jail before being tried.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters