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Strawberries spook Australia into raising jail terms for food tampering

21 September 2018

Woolworths, one of the country's big two supermarkets, announced that it had "taken the precautionary step" of temporarily withdrawing needles from sale, as police struggled to find the original culprit amid a spate of copycat episodes.

But Woolworths said the safety of its customers was its top priority and that pulling sewing needles from its shelves across the country was a safety measure.

Police are investigating more than 100 reports of sewing needles found in strawberries, which have forced farmers to dump fruit as demand plummets, and cast a shadow over an industry worth A$160 million ($116 million).

Though most of the recent incidents have involved strawberries, there has been at least one case of needles found in an apple, a banana, and a mango.

NSW produces around 1 per cent of Australia's strawberries.

The student found the needle before biting into it and told teachers.

Others have suggested using egg slicers to cut strawberries to ensure they are safe.

Australian politicians of all stripes have been quick to appear in front of a camera eating, cutting up and picking strawberries to show their support for farmers.

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One person - a child - has been arrested on suspicion of putting needles in strawberries.

The new laws, which would see the sentence for food tampering offences increase to a maximum of 15 years in prison, will be introduced into Federal Parliament next week.

"I'm just focused on making sure no idiot goes into a supermarket this weekend and does something ridiculous", Morrison told reporters.

"A member of the public today presented at York Police Station to report his concerns that a needle had been in a punnet of strawberries", the Western Australian police said in a statement. "Stick it up these parasites by going into the supermarkets and buying strawberries".

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

The states of Queensland and New South Wales have offered rewards for any information about fruit tampering.

Under Section 13 of the Food Act 1983, any party involved in importing, distributing, storing or selling food containing toxic, damaging or harmful to health shall be liable to a fine not exceeding RM100,000 or a maximum imprisonment of 10 years or both, upon conviction.

"It is beyond belief that anybody would deliberately sabotage fruit to try and harm people in the process, harm our hardworking fruit farmers and the industry", she told parliament.

Strawberries spook Australia into raising jail terms for food tampering