Sabotage: NSW farmers fear ‘catastrophic’ impact
MOUNTAINS of strawberries are being dumped and some NSW farmers may lose their entire crop as police admitted yesterday they have no leads on finding whoever is sticking needles into fruit being sold across Australia.
Authorities warned "hysteria" was taking hold as families shunned strawberries at the supermarket due to the national contamination scare, which experts said could cripple the industry.
And fear was spreading, as isolated cases of metal spikes being hidden in apples and bananas emerged, including a Kellyville mother who discovered a needle in the pink lady she was peeling for her daughter.
NSW Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty yesterday said more than 20 needles had been found in fruit across the state in the past week, from Tweed Heads to Albury, and urged the culprits to end the havoc.
"You are still causing alarm and anxiety to the public, you are causing economic loss to an industry, you are creating hysteria and making it a perilous adventure just to go and buy some fruit at a supermarket and feed your family," Supt Doherty said.
He said there were no confirmed suspects and no demands had been received from anyone claiming to be behind the sabotage. Anyone found guilty of contaminating food faces up to 10 years in prison, Supt Doherty said.
The contamination crisis began in Queensland last week, resulting in fruit from three major producers being pulled from shelves.
Since then, needles and pins have been reported in strawberries in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia and the ACT.
Early reports suggested a disgruntled farm worker may be behind the initial contamination in Queensland, though this was not confirmed. Authorities believe copycats are responsible for many incidents since then.
Devastating images emerged yesterday showing truckloads of strawberries being dumped at a family farm in Elimbah, Queensland, because they could not be sold.
"This here is worth more than you could ever imagine and within three days we lost it all," Leena Lee Cufari, who supplies Donnybrook Berries, said of the wasted fruit.
"We are doing everything we can to get our company back up and running."
Strawberries Australia deputy chairman Bryan Taylor said the risk of contamination was tiny but it would have a major impact across the industry because it would cause a "knee jerk reaction".
"This will cost people their farms, it could be catastrophic for the industry," Mr Taylor said.
He stressed there was nothing physically wrong with the strawberries being sold adding, "if consumers cut them into quarters they can be assured they are safe".
In NSW, needles have been reported in fruit at Taree, Tweed Heads, Maitland and Wingham, as well as Engadine and Mona Vale.
Kellyville mother Camella Decarlo yesterday said she discovered a needle in an apple she bought from Woolworths as she peeled it for her daughter's lunch box.
"It just freaked me out because I'm thinking my daughter normally just grabs and just bites into apples," she told Seven News.
Police are also investigating after a needle was reportedly found on Monday in a banana bought from a Condell Park grocery store.
Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie called the contamination "deliberate sabotage" and vice-president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, Adrian Schultz, said what started with a single "act of commercial terrorism" has now brought a multimillion-dollar industry to its knees.
"I'm angry for all the associated people - the farmers, the people who supply them, the packaging people, the truckies with families - who … lose their jobs," he said.