A fruit scare has engulfed Australia after at least 100 cases of needles in strawberries were reported. Food stores have been forced to remove all strawberry stocks from their shelves as the government tries to rein in the problem. Strawberry farmers are calling it sabotage and may lose a devastating amount of business.
Sewing Needles Are Appearing in Strawberries
The first report of the needles in strawberries came after a Facebook user posted of having purchased a container of strawberries from Woolworths.
A man who was with him developed complications and was hospitalized after “biting through a strawberry and swallowing half a sewing needle.” Upon checking on the other strawberries, they discovered one more needle.
Just posting this as a warning to anyone that has bought strawberries (Berry Obsessions) from Woolworths recently….
Strawberry Alert Issued
Authorities from Australia’s Queensland state, where this first case was reported, issued an alert confirming the case and urged consumers to “cut up strawberries before consuming them.” They further advised berries from Berry Obsession and Berry Licious brands to be disposed of as they were the brands needles were first found in.
— Queensland Health (@qldhealthnews) September 13, 2018
Following the revelation, at least a hundred other cases have since been reported across Australia causing a national scare. The authorities think the subsequent cases may be hoaxes and copycat incidences, but are unsure. They have yet to determine whether the original case was foul play by someone at the strawberry supplier, a disgruntled Woolworths’ employee, a customer or something else altogether.
“You are a Coward and a Grub”
Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia has likened the act of putting needles in strawberries to terrorism or child pornography and said the perpetrators will face up to 15 years in jail. Currently, contaminating food in Australia warrants a maximum of ten years in jail.
Morrison has urged parliament to amend the law to make it 15 years, a move which the opposition party also supported. “That is how seriously our government takes it,” he said.
“It’s not a joke, it’s not funny, you’re putting the livelihoods of hardworking Australians at risk and you’re scaring children. You’re a coward and you’re a grub and if you do that sort of thing in this country, we will come after you,” added Mr. Morrison.
Strawberry Farmers are Losing Business Worldwide
International markets that receive Australian strawberry exports have also been affected, and some stores are taking precautionary measures. A New Zealand retailer removed its Australian strawberries from sale while some buyers in the UK and Russia shunned Australian imports.
To restore confidence in their strawberries, the Australian Department of Agriculture announced that all strawberry containers will be subjected to metal detectors and x-ray scanning before being released for local or international consumption.
To support the strawberry farmers, politicians and citizens alike have, through a social media campaign, come out in large numbers to show their confidence in their homegrown berries. Using the hashtag #SmashAStrawb, they have been posting images of them eating strawberries or sharing their favorite strawberry-based recipes.
“Cut ‘em up. Don’t cut ‘em out” said a tweet by the Nationals, an Australian political party.
The Australian strawberry industry injects more than $160 million into the economy. With at least 15,000 tons of strawberries produced every season, the government has offered a $720,000 reward for information in a bid to avoid what it calls a “catastrophe for Queensland farmers.”