NZ Pulls Australian Brands As Watchdog Investigates 'Vicious' Strawberry Crime
About half of New Zealand's supermarkets will no longer stock Australian strawberry brands.
The Health Minister has labelled it a "vicious crime" and a Nationals frontbencher called those responsible "low-life scum" as the ongoing strawberry saga enters its third week.
Sewing needles were first found in strawberry punnets across two states two weeks ago, with two brands -- Berry Obsession and Berrylicious -- pulled from stores last Wednesday.
Since then, at least six more brands are believed to have been contaminated strawberries found in NSW, Tasmania, and the ACT.
One of New Zealand's two major food distributors have pulled the fruit off its shelves as a precaution.
Foodstuffs - which supplies various chains that make up about half of New Zealand's grocery store market - in a statement on Monday said it had stopped shipping Australian strawberries to its stores.
While none of its products had been affected by the major recall in Australia, it had brought the freeze in to reassure customers, a spokesman said.
The New Zealand strawberry season would kick off shortly, filling the supply gap, a spokesman said.
"This is a vicious crime," said Health Minister Greg Hunt on ABC Breakfast.
"It's designed to injure -- and possibly worse -- members of the population. It is also an attack on the agricultural sector, the strawberry sector in particular."
He's ordered Food Safety Australia and New Zealand to investigate whether there are supply chain weaknesses exploited by the strawberry saboteurs, and whether there are systematic changes required.
The federal agency will also see if there are actions it can take to assist police in the investigation, whom Hunt commended for their "magnificent job".
"At the end of the day, the job is very, very clear: protect the public and keep them safe," he said.
Nationals frontbencher Andrew Broad took a harder stance, lashing out at the "low-life scum" behind the contamination and calling for them to be "chucked in jail as soon as they're identified."
It is believed that a disgruntled former employee may be the culprit.
The Queensland government announced a $100,000 reward for information on the contamination scare, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk stressing that the culprits could face up to 10 years in jail.
"This is a serious issue and it just begs the question, how could any right-minded person want to put a baby or child or anybody's health at risk by doing such a dreadful act?"
Australians are advised to cut up any strawberries prior to eating them, or else throw them out entirely.
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