World

Strawberry spiking ‘sordid and sick’: NZ

By AAP Newswire

As New Zealand authorities try to find the source of a "sordid and sick" strawberry needle contamination, its government says it will keep relying on Australia's screening regime for safety.

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.

Acting NZ prime minister Winston Peters on Monday told reporters while the source of the contamination had yet to be confirmed, every punnet entering New Zealand would have to be screened in the future.

However, a spokeswoman for Primary Industries Minister Damien O'Connor later clarified New Zealand authorities would not be implementing their own testing, but would rely on Australian rules imposed last week requiring exporters to prove fruit had been through a metal detector or x-ray machine.

"Given these proactive measures from Australia, New Zealand is not currently imposing any further restrictions on Australian strawberries," she said.

Countdown has said Australian authorities have been alerted while NZ police are also investigating.

It was not yet clear whether the needles had been inserted in Australia or after export, Mr O'Connor told Radio NZ.

"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," he said.

Strawberry Growers NZ executive manager Michael Ahern tried to allay the concerns of local consumers, saying the issue was one for Australian suppliers.

"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."

No New Zealand-grown strawberries have been reported as contaminated.

Countdown and competitor Foodstuffs last week announced they had halted imports of Australian strawberries.

More than 100 reports of tampered fruit are being investigated in Australia.