Australia supermarket bans needles amid strawberry crisis

Thousands of strawberries are being left to rot in Queensland after needles were found buried within a few

Sewing needles were taken off the shelves at a major Australian supermarket chain on Thursday amid a national panic over sharp objects being found inside strawberries and other fruit. "The safety of our customers is our top priority", a Woolworths spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

It is not just strawberries and apples that have been affected by the needle scare but mangoes too.

Jamie Michael, who is head of the Western Australia Strawberry Growers Association, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp that his farm had dumped strawberries in the peak of the season and that if shoppers stayed away, some growers would not be able to afford to plant a crop for next year.

Woolworths could not say for how long they would keep their sewing needles from sale. It has paralysed the fruit industry as supermarkets are keeping strawberries off their shelves.

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"It is the responsibility of importers, agents, sellers to ensure that the food products they import and sell in the market adhere to the law", he said.

But Western Australia police announced Monday that the first suspected needle contamination case has been reported in locally grown fruit. In all six states of Australia there were reports of this horrifying fruit contamination, and at least two people have been taken to hospital after suffering from abdominal pain.

The Health Ministry has imposed checks on all fresh strawberries imported from Australia as a precaution following a recall of certain strawberries by the Australian authorities.

During a press briefing on Wednesday, NSW police Acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith told reporters that the young boy said he put the needles in the berries as a "prank".

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If the person were an adult, he would be facing a maximum of 10 years in jail in NSW.

Several state governments in Australia have also announced awards of A$100,000 ($73,000) for information leading to the arrest of people who have stuck needles in fruit.

"You are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you are scaring children", he said.

The Queensland and NSW governments are offering a reward to catch the culprits.

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The current punishment for intentionally contaminating a food source in New South Wales is 10 years imprisonment however according to The Independent, the Australian Prime Minister has said they are looking at increasing the maximum sentence to 15 years.

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