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Strawberry needle scare: Australia PM vows crackdown on 'cowards'

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Ginger Lawrence | 19 September, 2018, 13:12

Superintendent Doherty's comments come as NSW Police investigate more than 20 incidents of fruit contamination reported across the state.

On Monday, a Kelmscott family said they found a needle inside a punnet of strawberries bought from their local Woolworths, just hours after WA Police revealed a similar case had been reported in York.

That would make the penalty on par with crimes such as child pornography and financing terrorism, he said.

"It's not a joke, it's not amusing, you are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you are scaring children, you're a coward and you're a grub".

Foodstuffs and Countdown, which are owned by Woolworths and control almost the entire New Zealand grocery market, on Monday announced they had stopped sending out Australian strawberries to their stores.

Six brands of strawberries are now believed to be affected by needle and pin contamination, according to New South Wales police.

"That's how seriously I take this", Mr Morrison said.

"There's been metal detectors purchased and tamper-proof packaging looked at", he said.

However, with the contamination found across other states in Australia, authorities are no longer sure.

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Prices have fallen below the cost of production, leaving growers in crisis.

"What we've seen in the state (of NSW) we believe is the work of copycats and pranksters, we've got to deal with it though, the way we deal with any crime", Mr Smith told reporters in Sydney.

"Whoever is behind this is not just putting families at risk across Queensland and the rest of Australia - they are putting an entire industry at risk", Premier and Minister for Trade Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

The grower urged people to think before posting unconfirmed reports of sabotage, suggesting they report them through police and health services.

"What isn't helpful is the number of copycat and fake reports making an already hard situation worse", Ms Palaszczuk told Parliament on Wednesday. Queensland is a major strawberry producer in a national industry worth more than A$130 million ($93.22 million) a year.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday announced urgent and harsh new commonwealth criminal penalties for contaminating food as the ongoing needle crisis brings many Australian farmers to their knees.

"If they do have any strawberries it would be safest to dispose of them", Young said in a press conference.

Contaminated punnets have now been reported in six states and territories.

Asked about the mood among Victorian growers ahead of the harvest, Mr Calle said: "They are anxious that this is going to impact us when we start, that people are not going to buy strawberries".