AUSSIE AGRICULTURE MINISTER CALLS FOR PRISON SENTENCE FOR STRAWBERRY NEEDLE OFFENDERS

Australian Agriculture Minister David Littleproud on Tuesday demanded prison sentence for offenders responsible for placing pins and needles in strawberries, according to Xinhua news agency.

In his first comments on the contamination scare, he said the government would support farmers impacted by the contamination.

"State agencies need to throw the book (at the offenders). Whoever this idiot is, is lucky that no one is hurt. I'd expect penalties to include jail time," he told Fairfax Media on Tuesday.

"My thoughts are with every farmer caught up in this and the Coalition is always looking at ways to help farmers and we will continue to monitor developments as this unfolds."

Initial speculation was that a disgruntled employee was responsible for the contamination but as more cases have come to light, authorities have expressed concerns about copycat offenders.

Contaminated strawberries have been sold in every Australian state except Western Australia and the fruits have been removed from supermarket shelves as a precaution.

One person was hospitalised after eating a contaminated strawberry. The contamination has been traced back to farms in Queensland and New South Wales.

Authorities in Queensland have offered a 100,000 Australian dollars (US$71,600) reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprit or culprits.

Littleproud's comments come following revelation the Australian Border Force has joined the investigation and was prepared to deport any offender if they had come from a foreign country.

Under Australian laws, people in Australia holding working holiday visas can only have their visa extended for a second year if they complete 88 days of paid work in regional Australia. The stipulation means that a large percentage of Australia's agricultural workforce is on a temporary visa.

Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK