Young boy arrested by police

Australia's strawberry needle scare spurs proposal for 15-year jail term

Police in Australia have arrested a young boy who admitted to inserting needles into strawberries as part of an apparent prank. New South Wales Acting Assistant Police Commissioner Stuart Smith would not release further details.

"Obviously in the last few days we found a young person that admitted to playing a prank, including putting needles in strawberries, and he'll be dealt with under the youth cautioning system," he said.  reported how, as a result of the needles found in strawberries and other fruits gripping the country, Australia plans to increase the maximum jail term to 15 years for anyone convicted of contaminating foodstuffs.

Police are investigating more than 100 reports of needles found in fruit. Needles, first found in strawberries produced by one supplier in the northern state of Queensland, are now turning up around the country.

On Tuesday, police in New South Wales said they were investigating incidents involving an apple and a banana. Nobody has sustained a serious injury yet, and a senior Australian minister said many of the cases would turn out to be hoaxes.

But with demand plunging, strawberry farmers have been forced to dump produce, casting a shadow over an industry worth US$115.84 million.

Responding to the scare, Morrison said his government would seek to increase the maximum jail term to 15 years from 10 years for anyone convicted of tampering with food. The government will also move to criminalize hoax claims before parliament rises for a two-week holiday on Thursday.

“It’s not funny, putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk,” the prime minister told reporters in Canberra. “If you do that sort of thing in this country we will come after you and we will throw the book at you.”

"We’re not mucking about. This is not on, this is just not on in this country." Calling the perpetrator a "coward and a grub", Morrison says the new maximum sentence would put the crime on par with "things like possessing child pornography and financing terrorism. That’s how seriously I take this."

Meanwhile, sales of metal detectors in New Zealand soared in the wake of the Aussie fruit needle scare, and reported on an Adelaide woman’s simple trick to make sure her strawberries are safe to eat going viral.

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