16 Sep 2018

Reward offered for information on needles in strawberries

6:25 pm on 16 September 2018

A $100,000 reward is being put up by the Queensland government for information on the person contaminating strawberries with sewing needles.

Fresh strawberry at market in plastic boxes.

The strawberry industry in Queensland, Australia, is suffering after needles were found in strawberries. Photo: 123rf.com

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has approved the reward, and is urging the community to come together to stop the crime.

Ms Palaszczuk said police are doing everything they can to catch those responsible for the "callous act".

"Those responsible could face up to 10 years' jail, if not more, for the crimes they are committing.

"This is a $160 million industry to Queensland… and someone is trying to sabotage the industry, but also in doing that, they are putting babies' and children's and families' lives at risk.

"It is simply unacceptable, I am furious about this."

Ms Palaszczuk would not be drawn on whether the government would offer financial relief to affected farmers.

"We are in constant contact with the members of the growers association, and this is a big industry, everybody loves strawberries," she said.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday afternoon, Queensland Acting Chief Superintendent Terry Lawrence said there was no evidence the sabotage came from a disgruntled employee.

"This was an earlier comment by the Strawberry Growers Association, it's something we don't subscribe to, we are looking at points of the chain from growth all the way to distribution into the stores, we're keeping a very open mind," he said.

Queensland's chief health officer Jeannette Young said there were still only three recalled brands.

"We have seen other potentially contaminated strawberries. We're not sure at what stage they might have been contaminated."

Dr Young also reiterated her advice from the past few days - cut up any strawberries before eating.

Other potential contamination cases have been reported, but not yet confirmed.

Up to six brands affected: NSW police

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

A police statement released late on Friday afternoon said contamination could now affect Donnybrook Berries, Love Berry, Delightful Strawberries and Oasis brands, along with Berry Obsession and Berry Licious, the two brands named earlier this week.

The NSW police announcement came after Queensland Health confirmed Donnybrook strawberries, supplied to supermarkets nationwide from its farms north of Brisbane, had been found contaminated with sewing needles.

Queensland Strawberry Growers Association's Jennifer Rowling said it was a tough time for the industry.

"Our industry is really struggling at the moment, so our priority is supporting our growers through this really difficult time," she said.

"They're concerned about the effects on sales, on their businesses and they're also concerned it's going to happen to them."

She said the $100,000 reward was welcome.

"We really hope that it brings in some new information to help the police with their inquiries," she said.

"It's pretty damaging every day it continues. It was damaging from the very beginning, so we're hopeful the police can find the perpetrator as soon as possible."