Farmers are being forced to dump strawberries over fears they could have been contaminated by needles, as the crisis spreads across all of Australia’s states.
WA Health confirmed on Monday that Mal’s Black Label strawberries in the state have now been affected, marking the last of all six states. That came amid more reports of needles and even razor blades discovered inside the fruit.
Some farmers are now having to use metal detectors on their produce, while one has even been forced to dump thousands of strawberries in a field over fears they have been contaminated by the sewing needles found in so many punnets around the country.
Neil Handasyde, president of the Strawberry Growers Association of Western Australia, told the ABC they had been warned by retailers and insurance companies to scan fruit for needles.
WA grown, Mal's Black Label strawberries have been implicated in a needle scare in South Australia. If you have this product, please inspect the fruit before eating.
— WA Health (@WAHealth) September 16, 2018
“As an industry, we are sure that [the needles] are not coming from the farm, but we’re trying to get confidence into consumers that when they buy… strawberries, that there isn’t going to be anything other than strawberries in there and they’re safe to eat,” he told the news outlet. “[We] are looking at lots of different ways of tackling this issue. There’s been metal detectors purchased and tamper-proof packaging looked at.”
In fact, he himself has been forced to pay $20,000 for a metal detector for his farm.
Adrian Schultz, the vice-president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, told ABC Radio it’s threatening to cripple the industry, adding: “I’m angry for all the associated people – it’s the farmers, the people who supply them, the packaging people, the truckies [truck drivers] – with families to support, who suddenly lose their jobs… it’s far-reaching.”
In one of the latest cases, Adelaide mother Kerry Munday told Nine News she had come dangerously close to feeding her baby a strawberry with a needle hidden inside it.
“I often just give him whole strawberries as a snack and if I’d done that with that particular strawberry, and he’d swallowed a needle… I don’t want to think about it,” she told the news outlet. She immediately reported the discovery, and added: “They took a statement, asked me what happened, all that sort of stuff, then the crime scene guy came out and had a look at the strawberry.”
Elsewhere, Gold Coast woman Debra Fox was forced to rush her pet French bull-dog cross pug to the vet after discovering it had eaten a strawberry filled with five razor blades. She later claimed someone had thrown the fruit over her fence, and it’s unclear if it’s at all connected to the wider strawberry crisis.
“If he had eaten the strawberry he would have died,” she told the Gold Coast Bulletin. “Who would do this to an animal for no reason? Just for fun and to cause pain to an animal?”
On Friday it was reported that punnets produced by Berry Obsession, Berry Licious and Donnybrook Strawberries had been pulled from the shelves of major supermarkets across the entire country, along with Love Berry, Delightful Strawberries, and Oasis brands.
The news was followed by an announcement from Queensland Government which, according to the ABC, is offering a reward of $100,000 for information that leads to the arrest of the person responsible for contaminating strawberries with sewing needles.