Lily Dalitz enjoys some strawberries at her family's Uraidla property. Picture: Bianca De Marchi
Lily Dalitz enjoys some strawberries at her family's Uraidla property. Picture: Bianca De Marchi

Strawberry popularity soars amid needle fears

THE House of Representatives and households have taken very different but equally important action to support strawberry growers and sabotage the saboteurs.

Laws toughening deliberate contamination penalties were introduced yesterday and passed within four hours, having only been foreshadowed on Wednesday.

As the Government was drafting the crackdown on "food terrorists", more and more home cooks were looking for ways to use strawberries.

Searches of taste.com.au containing "strawberry" rose 68 per cent on Wednesday from the day before, when they had increased at an even sharper rate. Searches on strawberry jam and muffins in particular have soared. It follows a more than halving in searches when the sabotage scandal broke.

Lily Dalitz, one, enjoys some strawberries at her family's Uraidla property. Picture: Bianca De Marchi
Lily Dalitz, one, enjoys some strawberries at her family's Uraidla property. Picture: Bianca De Marchi

With police around the nation contending with more than 100 reports of sabotaged fruit, Attorney-General Christian Porter told Parliament the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill sent a strong and simple message.

"The behaviour we are now witnessing is not a joke. It is not funny. It is a serious criminal offence, and we denounce it, and offenders of it will face very serious consequences," Mr Porter said.

The law raises the maximum penalty for intentional contamination to 15 years' jail. The bill creates a new offence for making a false statement about contamination. This could be punished with up to 10 years in prison.

"The clear and manifest risk we also see demonstrated by recent events appears to be inspiring hoaxes and copycat offenders," the A-G said. "These people need to know that if they engage in such conduct they will be committing a very serious crime."

Labor leader Bill Shorten, speaking in support of the new offences, said "they will act, we hope, as strong deterrents for anyone considering the stupid, cowardly and, frankly, bizarre act of tampering with fruit and vegies that Australians eat."

A needle was allegedly found in Berry Obsessions strawberries purchased from Woolworths at northside Brisbane. Picture: Supplied
A needle was allegedly found in Berry Obsessions strawberries purchased from Woolworths at northside Brisbane. Picture: Supplied

Mr Shorten said he wanted to discuss with Mr Morrison about "what can be done better" next time. He suggested that shortcomings in the response to the sewing needle scandal had made it worse.

"So far, whilst everyone has tried to do the very best they can, it would appear that some of the process has been uncoordinated between the states, with different states and authorities taking different approaches," the opposition leader said. "I think, even now, with the benefit of near hindsight, talking to growers, it would appear that some of the approaches may have caused significant damage to the industry, fed the media frenzy and, indeed, perhaps incited and invited copycats."

On social media, mentions of "smashastrawb" and "cutthemupdontcutthemout" have become popular tags this week as a show of support for struggling farmers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison slammed people who were contaminating strawberries. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Prime Minister Scott Morrison slammed people who were contaminating strawberries. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Most notably, local "influencer" Sammy Robinson - who has more than 500,000 followers on Instagram and 660,000 on YouTube - posted an image showing her about to eat a cut strawberry.

Supermarket giant Woolworths has taken the extraordinary step of withdrawing sewing needles from its shelves nationally.

A Facebook post from a shopper claiming to have found a needle in strawberries bought from a Hobart Woolworths supermarket.
A Facebook post from a shopper claiming to have found a needle in strawberries bought from a Hobart Woolworths supermarket.

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