Strawberry Sabotage Stretches Across The Ditch As Needle Found In NZ Punnet

Imported from Aus

Strawberry Sabotage Stretches Across The Ditch As Needle Found In NZ Punnet

As New Zealand authorities try to find the source of a "sordid and sick" strawberry needle contamination, the country's growers are talking down the discovery as an issue for the Australian industry.

Woolworths-owned supermarket chain Countdown on Sunday announced it was removing Choice brand strawberries, imported from Western Australia, from shelves across NZ after an Auckland customer reported discovering needles in their fruit.

It is the first such case reported across the Tasman.

The company said it had alerted authorities in Australia while NZ police and government agencies have also launched their own investigations.

It was not yet clear whether the needles had been inserted in Australia or after export, New Zealand Minister for Primary Industries Damien O'Connor told Radio NZ on Monday.

"It's the kind of sordid and sick proposition that does arise when these situations are publicised ... We hope that it would not be a New Zealander doing a copycat ... these will be the things that will be discovered," he said.

Mr O'Connor said he'd be looking at whether additional security measures had been taken around Australian product and whether there were any simple short-term steps that could be taken to assure consumers.

But while reports have suggested some New Zealand growers had already been eyeing metal detectors before the discovery, Strawberry Growers NZ executive manager Michael Ahern on Monday tried to allay the concerns of local consumers, talking the issue down as an Australian one.

"It is a concern, but we don't want to overcook it ... it's Australian product that's involved here," he said.

"We feel for the Aussie growers, so I don't like having to make such a blatant distinction ... But we need to remind our consumers that it's business as usual as far as we can see."

Earlier, in a message to potential copycats on the AM Show, Mr Ahern said there was a lot at stake.

"We've got a number of growers with their livelihoods on the line," he said.

No New Zealand-grown strawberries have been reported as contaminated. The local product comes into season in September and has begun appearing on supermarket shelves.

Countdown early last week announced it had halted imports of Australia strawberries to NZ for the season while competitor Foodstuffs ceased shipping them to its stores.

More than 100 reports of tampered fruit are being investigated by police across Australia, many of which are thought to be fake or copycat cases, while the federal government has ramped up penalties for so-called "food terrorists".

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