Fruit sabotagers to face up to 15 years' jail under new laws

At least seven brands of strawberries have been affected

At least seven brands of strawberries have been affected

Both of New Zealand's biggest supermarket chains decided on Monday to halt Australian strawberry orders for now, even though the country's Ministry of Primary Industries confirmed none of the contaminated strawberry brands had made it on to shop shelves.

Punnets of contaminated fruit have now been found in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, involving six brands.

She said they would be working closely with police in their investigation and urged customers to cut the fruit as a safety precaution.

"The member of the public advised he located the needle in his sink after preparing strawberries for his family". It's not amusing. You're putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you're scaring children.

The phenomenon - which has put people off buying strawberries and has thrown Australia's fruit industry into chaos - has been worsening over the past week.

Condemning the "shocking and cowardly" recent contamination of strawberries, Mr Morrison said the government will increase from 10 to 15 years the maximum prison sentence for food tampering offences.

"Someone is trying to sabotage the industry but also in doing that, they are putting babies' and children's and families' lives at risk", said Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Smith said that all offenders involved in the pranks would "feel the full weight of the law", Seven News reported.

EARLIER: QUEENSLAND Police are investigating an incident where a "metal object" was found inside a banana.

Empty shelves normally stocked with strawberry punnets are seen at a Coles Supermarket in Brisbane
Empty shelves normally stocked with strawberry punnets are seen at a Coles Supermarket in Brisbane

Additionally, anyone who piggy-backs off such a crisis by engaging in a reckless hoax would also face 10 years behind bars.

"What isn't helpful is the number of copycat and fake reports making an already hard situation worse", Ms Palaszczuk told Parliament on Wednesday.

In total, there were more than 100 reports of people finding needles in strawberries and other fruits, officials have said.

"I expect nobody goes home until that's done", he said.

NSW Police say they are continuing to liaise with retailers to ensure that all stock from the affected dates have been removed from sale, having received reports of contaminated strawberries purchased at supermarkets at Tweed Heads, Taree, and Wingham.

Queensland, a major strawberry producer, is offering A$100,000 (£54,768) as a reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

Numerous needles and pins have been found in the fruit across the country, prompting the federal government to announce it's examining the states' handling of the problem. Other supermarkets have also pulled strawberries from their shelves.

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".

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