Australia: Farm worker put needles in strawberries over workplace grievance

This Monday, a former strawberry farm supervisor was accused in court of retaliating over a workplace grievance by putting needles into the fruit. The woman’s actions sparked recalls that devastated the Australian strawberry industry.

Magistrate Christine Roney said while prosecutors were alleging My Ut Trinh was "motivated by spite or revenge" she would not consider granting bail for the woman until the reasons for her actions became clearer.

While no injuries were reported from the needles, the crisis escalated to six states and neighboring New Zealand. Australia's multimillion-dollar strawberry industry suffered major financial losses, with fruit recalled from supermarket shelves and destroyed. Major food distributors in New Zealand removed Australian strawberries from stores.

State Crime Command Superintendent Jon Wacker told reporters before the court hearing that 230 incidents were reported nationwide, impacting 68 strawberry brands. The scare was concentrated in Queensland state, where 77 incidents were reported, with 15 of them believed to be hoaxes or false complaints.

Trinh, 50, was the first person arrested and has been charged with seven counts of contamination of goods with intent to cause economic loss, and would face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

A Vietnamese refugee who arrived by boat two decades ago and became an Australian citizen, Trinh was working as a supervisor of fruit pickers at the Berrylicious strawberry farm near Caboolture, north of Brisbane, when she allegedly inserted needles into the fruit between Sept. 2 and 5, the court was told.

Prosecutor Cheryl Tesch said it would be alleged in court that DNA matching Trinh's was found on one of the needles discovered in a strawberry.

Queensland strawberry growers are pleased about the arrest. However, it is disconcerting that the charges relate to only six or seven punnets of strawberries, proving that the majority of the 200+ incidents were copycats or false reports.

According to bloomberg.com¸ it was a crisis driven by social media and the only real victims were the strawberry growers, and to some extent other Australian fruit growers and exporters.


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